Writing on the wall

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Diplomatic cables released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks has all but exposed the tenuous nature of relations between the Pakistani military establishment and the civilian government. What was generally perceived to be true is now in black and white.

It is revealed that the politicians as well as the military leadership loved to cry on the matronly shoulders of former US ambassador Anne Patterson. Examples include General Kayani telling her in the midst of the judicial crisis in March 2009 that he might however reluctantly pressure Mr. Zardari to resign and the president confiding with the ambassador that he might be taken out.

There has always been a general perception in the public that nothing moves in the country without the consent of Uncle Sam. Careful readings of the cables relating to Pakistan prove that these assumptions are not far off the mark, especially in case of politicians across the board.

It is interesting to note that even Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman is not ashamed to do Washingtons bidding if offered the prime ministerial berth. Asfandyar Wali is not to be left far behind he is available to replace Mr. Zardari if the military so desires. The duplicity of the government is also laid bare in the WikiLeaks. The prime minister and the military are complicit in the US drone attacks as long as they get the right people.

The cables also reveal deep mistrust that exists between Washington and Islamabad. While deeply suspicious of Islamabads intentions, the US has no option but to rely on its ally to conduct the war against the Taliban. The chimerical nature of the relationship is evident from the fact that the US has to depend on the Pakistani military despite reaching the conclusion that it is backing the Taliban.

It is no revelation that Washington considers the civilian government in Islamabad weak and dependant on US support for survival. The militarys contempt for the present government is also laid bare in the open. Mr. Zardari is surviving because of the strategic decision by General Kayani not to oust him. The general according to the cables, learning his lessons from his predecessor Gen. Musharraf has deliberately opted to remain behind the scenes.

Interestingly, according to the cables, the military hates Nawaz Sharif even more than the present lot. Hence, Mr. Zardari is surviving by default. In any case, with the Army taking all the major decisions in the realm of foreign policy, national security and according to some even the economy it has no desire to take the flak of subverting the constitution. It is no coincidence that General Kayani is regarded as the most powerful man in Pakistan by the West.

The most worrisome aspect of the WikiLeaks is the revelation about the Wests anxieties for the safety of Pakistans nuclear arsenal. According to Patterson, our major concern is not having an Islamic militancy steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in the nuclear facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon. Despite public pronouncements to the contrary, these fears prevail in Washington.

On the other hand, Islamabadis are also deeply suspicious of the US intentions in this regard. In a wide-ranging briefing to journalists on the eve of the WikiLeaks, General Kayani revealed that he has conveyed to president Obama during his recent visit to Washington the concern of the Pakistani people that the US wants to denuclearise Pakistan.

The chain smoking and dapper military chief, with a large photograph of the Quaid-e-Azam in a double breasted suit while smoking a cigarette in the background at the GHQ conference room, briefed the media for over five hours on all aspects of strategic relations with Washington. He highlighted the problems being faced by the military in the conduct of this war. While terming Islamabad as the most bullied ally of the US, he complained that Washington not only takes Pakistan for granted, it is disrespectful of its support.

Beyond an iota of doubt WikiLeaks have badly damaged Pakistan. The disconnect between the civilian government and the military with its appended consequences is now in the open. The contempt the military establishment has for politicians does not augur well for the future of democracy. According to some pundits, with the fast deteriorating security environment and abysmal state of the economy, the military is preparing for a government of technocrats drawn from different political parties rather than overtly take over.

Despite the so-called red lines, which the US military is not to cross, the cables reveal the extent of covert co-operation between the military establishment and its US counterpart. Small teams of US Special Forces were secretly embedded with Pakistans military in North and South Waziristan, in October 2009 helping to hunt down Al Qaeda fighters and co ordinate drone attacks in the area.

It is evident that a covert national security and foreign policy is being pursued, quite distinct from our declared policies. At least our ambassador in Washington comes out clean, calling a spade a spade by being unabashedly pro-American.

The strategic paradigm of the military is also coming under deep challenges owing to the fast changing security environment. The cables say that in the eyes of the U.S, Pakistan Army and the ISI are covertly sponsoring four militant groups including LeT and would not abandon them for any amount of US money.

With the US administration assiduously courting New Delhi there is little chance that Pakistan will change its India-centric policies. This is despite the fact that most politicians think otherwise and would like to mend fences with India and peruse an even more pro-US policy if left on their own.

Even the military claims that it wants better relations with India. But it considers New Delhis rapid militarisation Pakistan specific. However, it is quite aware of the fact that in the face of fast deteriorating economic base it can ill afford another war with India.

The WikiLeaks revelations have laid bare the fragility of the Pakistani state, both internally as well as in its relations with the world. It is deeply mistrusted by its western patrons and dangerously isolated in the region. And it is imploding from within. The experiment with civilian rule is faltering. Unless the politicians close rank and set their house in order the writing is on the wall.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today.

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