x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Leaked US diplomatic cables embarrass Pakistani political and military leaders

Embarrassing WikiLeaks disclosures have adorned the tarred domestic reputations of Pakistan's political and military leaders with feathers, leaving many Pakistanis wondering who they can trust.

ISLAMABAD // Embarrassing WikiLeaks disclosures have adorned the tarred domestic reputations of Pakistan's political and military leaders with feathers, leaving many Pakistanis wondering who they can trust.

Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has gotten off lightly, his worst apparent sin being to manipulate a Supreme Court decision that barred Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader, from holding public office.

However, for a man as unpopular as Mr Zardari, such disclosures have left little impact on the Pakistani public perception. Rather, it is Pakistan's powerful army that finds itself most entangled in the web of its own politicking, particularly during 2009. Most damaging was the disclosure the army had, on two occasions, asked the US to embed Special Forces with Pakistani forces fighting Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militants in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Leaked US Embassy cables show the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, had tacitly approved drone strikes against al Qa'eda targets, although Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, conveyed the decision. From a western mindset, that would be viewed as a sign of the military's willingness to "do more" but it plays differently to a Pakistani audience.

Since he became president in August 2008, Mr Zardari has been depicted as an American stooge and a threat to Pakistan's sovereignty by the military's sympathisers in the media. On the other hand, Mr Kayani was portrayed as having thwarted such supposed US attempts to undermine Pakistan's sovereignty.

Mr Kayani was viewed as being instrumental in persuading Mr Zardari to accept an independent judiciary and cede most of his powers to parliament in 2009, thereby strengthening Pakistan's fledgling democracy.

In fact, leaked US diplomatic cables show Mr Kayani and his intelligence chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, conspiring against the president.

Mr Kayani had in March 2009 told the US ambassador, Anne Patterson, that he "might, however, reluctantly" pressure Mr Zardari to resign over his reluctance to reinstate the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Leaked documents indicate that Mr Kayani not only thought about intervening, but offered the presidency to Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, who declined. Mr Sharif was not favoured because the army chief did not consider him trustworthy.

The relative popularity of Mr Gilani takes a knock for confiding to US officials that the government would mask its complicity in drone strikes by protesting in parliament, but otherwise feigning helplessness. Ambassador Patterson's description of Mr Gilani as the "next most dishonest" politician after Mr Zardari has also risen more than a few eyebrows.

Mr Sharif fares fairly well, although the US ambassador is amazed when he thanks the US, through her, for supposedly facilitating the appointment of Mr Kayani as army chief.

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the leader of the biggest religious party, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, also has some explaining to do. Professedly an admirer of the Afghan Taliban, he is quoted as lobbying the US ambassador in 2007 to help him become prime minister.

 

thussain@thenational.ae