Defending and putting a spin on the spin of their diplomats, many of whom acted as spies, and disproving conspiracy theories is not going to be easy for the US
By Imtiaz Gul
The News, December 05, 2010
Should we call it a historic treasure trove or the "mischievous" side of the US private and public diplomacy? Or perhaps a Tsunami that has swept in a good part of what US civilian and military leaders say in public about countries such as Pakistan and their leaders?
The "stinking" leaks — even though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played them down as part of the job "US diplomats are performing in the national interest" — do provide strong hints and proofs about the suspicions and misgivings the American administration nurture about Pakistan.
The deluge of leaks, including those from Ann Patterson on Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as personal "assessments" of other rulers, do reflect the thinking within the State Department and gives plenty of reason to be skeptical about its functioning.
Clinton condemned the release by WikiLeaks of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables as "reprehensible" and promised action against those involved, yet these documents gave scores of detractors of the United States of America, particularly the Muslim world, a reason to feel vindicated. As a consequence, many hardliners and right-wing nationalists are cockcrowing about their past statements.
In an "I-told-you-so" fashion, the conspiracy theorists are reminding us of their conviction that the Americans are after Pakistani nuclear weapons, something that clearly comes through a dispatch by the then American Ambassador Anne W. Patterson (May 2009). She reported to the State Department that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, she said quoting a Pakistani official, "if the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons."
Nothing could have been more shocking than to learn through this leak that the move had been afoot since 2007 to remove from a Pakistani research reactor PINSTECH highly-enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
The excuse may have been to get back the enriched fuel that the US gifted to Pakistan in the 1960s for PINSTECH but the thinking betrays a grave suspicion of Pakistan as an "irresponsible" country where enriched fissile material could land in the hands of rogue elements — the anti-US jihadists.
Patterson’s dispatch essentially exposes the discriminatory treatment, if not the paradoxical US policy, towards Pakistan.
It is probably not out of place to mention that the New York Times, based on the leaks, has already pieced together a "fascinating study of the twists and turns of US policy towards Iran and how this relates to Saudi-China relations — guaranteed oil deliveries were offered if Beijing cut its links with Tehran — and the US-Russia debate on missile defence."
The goal for the Americans in both cases was to get Moscow and Beijing on board to back tougher sanctions against Iran.
The WikiLeaks cables are therefore likely to entail serious short-term and long-term impact on the US-Pakistan relations, and undermine those Pakistanis who have spoken up in favour of closer cooperation with the US in recent times, putting the so-called liberals on the defensive.
Fundamentally, mistrust and mutual doubts continue to overshadow the uneasy but expanding Pak-US ties, which are likely to get an equally harder hit when seen in the context of revelations Bob Woodword had made in his book "Obama’s Wars" about the special secret forces operating in the Af-Pak region.
One of the leaked correspondences says that small teams of US special forces have been operating secretly inside Pakistan’s border regions. In October 2009, for instance, the Pakistani military quietly allowed a small team of US special operations soldiers to "deploy with Pakistani troops in North and South Waziristan." They were there to provide "intelligence, surveillance and recon support co-ordinating drone strikes and helping the military hunt down militants."
Until now, Pakistan army has consistently denied reports of the "US boots on the ground." In fact, soon after a brisk US marines operation in early September 2008 in Angoor Adda, South Waziristan, the Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani had issued a stern warning saying no "American operations on the Pakistani soil would be allowed."
In this context, therefore, it will not be surprising if many faces go red — both in Washington and Islamabad — where the Americans believe their interests are well-guarded.
While far from perfect, says one of the documents on the Pakistani president, "President Zardari is pro-American and anti-extremist; we believe he is our best ally in the government." Unlike these flattering words, Saudi King Abdullah seemed to see Zardari in a different light. These remarks, and also those about Iran and its president, primarily betray the deep-seated thoughts of the Saudi monarch about heads of state in his neighbourhood. It bears the potential of virtually destroying the good work that officials in Tehran and Riyadh had put in to improve their relations.
On the other hand, some of the documents single out sources within Saudi Arabia as the financiers of al-Qaeda and like-minded networks operating elsewhere. Publicly, there is hardly any ostracisation of Saudi Arabia on this count, or for that matter on public executions, (for the plain reason that Saudi Arabia services and protects the American defense industry by buying billions of dollars worth of hardware almost every year).
Al-Qaeda funding from Saudi sources is in fact something that largely goes missing in the debate — also in the US media little attention is paid to the Saudi role in the spawning of trans-nationalist Islamist movements. These networks and movements are now threatening not only Pakistan but also other countries.
Regardless of the merit or otherwise of the act of leaking official documents, the entire US administration now has a tough mission — to convince allies such as Pakistan that it means no ill. Defending their diplomats, putting a spin on the spin of their diplomats many of whom acted as spies, and disproving conspiracy theories, however, is not going to be easy. The leaks have only reinforced the alarmists, conspiracy theorists and Taliban-al Qaeda apologists.
This is the last thing the United States would have wanted in Pakistan for instance; Washington has committed over 700 million dollars for the post-flood operations, hoping it would help improve its public image in Pakistan.
The leaks are scary as well as alarming as they would slow down any reforms — if any at all — underway within the Pakistani establishment. And that will certainly be detrimental to the desperately-needed review of our defense outlook.
The author heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is the author of The Most Dangerous Place (Viking Penguin USA)