The WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables about Pakistan has shed new light on US-Pakistan relations. The leaked communications reveal Washington’s frustration with Islamabad and the civil-military struggles within Pakistan. Dispatches from early 2010, for instance, quote the aging Saudi monarch calling President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress: “When the head is rotten it affects the whole body”.
ISI still in the game: The cables from Secretary of State acknowledge that Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, but some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayabba (LeT) and other extremist organizations.
Biden and Brown on militancy and aid: According to the cable documenting US Vice President Biden’s March 27, 2009 meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, there was no real possibility of defeating Al Qaeda without also “dealing with Pakistan”. Vice President Biden said he worried that NATO countries in Europe underestimated the threat from the region and viewed the problem as an economic development issue rather than a security issue, despite the fact that Afghan opium is primarily exported to Europe; and Europe has been the victim of several terrorist attacks originating from the region.
During this meeting, Vice President Biden commented that it was difficult to convince Pakistan to commit to developing its counter-insurgency potential as the threat from India made Pakistan devote defence spending to conventional warfare capabilities. Thus in the meantime “we [US] need to develop our relationship with Pakistan beyond its current transactional nature to a long-term strategic partnership. We should begin with $1.5 billion per year in economic assistance that is unconditional and supplement that with military assistance that is conditioned on the modernization of its command structure and active action in the field to combat insurgents. It would be difficult to convince Congress to support such a plan, particularly the unconditional civilian component.”
Biden noted that with the exception of the UK and a few others, very few Europeans were taking action. Brown agreed that there was a significant terrorist as more than 30,000 Pakistanis travel back and forth to the UK each year and two-thirds of the terrorist threats that UK security forces investigate originate in Pakistan. The roots of terrorism in Pakistan are complicated and go beyond the madrassas to, in some areas, a complete societal incitement to militancy.
The Zardari-Kayani-Sharif triangle: US Vice President Biden and US Prime Minster Gordon Brown felt that Zardari’s commitment to combating terrorism was unclear, although “he always says the right things”. The only way to reduce the threat and eventually draw down NATO’s commitment to the region was by increasing the capacity of Afghan and Pakistani security services. The 2009 cable says that Biden commented that Zardari had said to him: “ISI director, and Kayani will take me out”. Brown thought this unlikely and said that Kayani did not want to be another Musharraf; rather he would give civilian leadership room to function. However, Kayani was suspicious of the Sharif brothers and Zardari.
According to leaked cables, Nawaz Sahrif has been telling the US ambassador he was “pro-American”, despite his public stance and thanked the US for “arranging” to have Kayani appointed as the Army chief. US Ambassador Anne W Patterson shot this down by saying that, “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s chief of army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”
Furthermore, US and General Kayani worried that Zardari would renege on his word of pardoning Musharraf. Patterson’s view according to the cable was that “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on an immunity deal”.
Human rights and the Pak army: Secret cables for the US Embassy in Islamabad address concerns about Pakistan security forces’ human rights abuses against terrorists in Malakand Division and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The cable acknowledges the difficult of accuracy but reports from a variety of sources suggested that Frontier Corps and regular Pakistan Army units involved in direct combat with terrorists may have been involved:
“The crux of the problem appears to centre on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees… Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor. This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad and have repeatedly ordered their unconditional release.”
The cable also implicates the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police in the abuse of terrorist suspects allegedly responsible for attacks on police stations and says that this is a separate problem from those detained by Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army units. The cable highlights areas for assistance in this regard; creation of new ordinances, reform of prison rehabilitation programs and help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) and the UK government.
Washington worried about Abdul Qadeer Khan: Cables from Hillary Clinton’s office from 2008 say that the US was strongly opposed to AQ Khan’s release and would undermine the positive steps Pakistan had taken on non-proliferation. The document urged Pakistan to consider the long-term gains it could garner from the international community by continuing Dr Khan’s current status rather than the short-term domestic political gains that could result from his release.
Bin Laden and General Musharraf: Anne W Patterson in leaked documents has claimed that Pakistan had concerns that the US would desert Islamabad after they catch Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Thus Pakistan feels hesitant in fully cooperating with its key ally. Anne W Patterson said that the relationship between the two countries was one of co-dependency: “Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows that Pakistan cannot survive without our support”.
In a meeting held in April 2007, Musharraf told Senator John McCain that although he had no solid evidence, he believed Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were in Bajaur Agency, since it was in the territory of Afghan militant leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and bordered Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He also spoke about Karzai’s frequent pronouncements about Pakistan’s failure to capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Quetta: “Let me tell you, Omar would be mad to be in Quetta – he has too many troops to command in southern Afghanistan to make it feasible. In fact, the only parts of Balochistan with Pakistani Taliban are Afghan refugee camps which we are planning to shut down.”
Musharraf also said that most Pashtuns in Balochistan were traders and had no reason to join the Taliban. They want roads to increase their trade, not to fight. The same could not be said for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Compiled from WikiLeaks archives. The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010