A fractious polity

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This is kind of bad timing, but here it is. The US diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing website have not only put the Obama Administration in an awkward spot but have also shaken Pakistans political and military elite. The damaging revelations come at a time when the countrys elected leadership is grappling with a host of problems while also being conscious of behind-the-scenes manipulation by the powerful army which continues to dominate the power equation.

Every day you discover something new: some more disturbing disclosures made in the leaked cables. These are about the complex relationship between the Army and the politicians. And they show just how weak the civilian government is. President Zardari once told US Vice President Biden that he worried that the military might take him out. Then there was another revelation that during the lawyers movement General Kayani hinted that he might have to persuade President Zardari to resign if the situation further deterioratesThis would not be a formal coup but would leave in place the PPP government led by PM Gilani, thus avoiding elections that would likely bring Nawaz Sharif to power.

This formed part of the conversation between General Kayani and former American Ambassador Anne Patterson in a series of meetings they had in Islamabad. WikiLeaks in its reports revealed that Ambassador Patterson wrote to her officials in Washington that Kayani had made it clear regardless how much he disliked Zardari he distrusted Nawaz Sharif more. There were other cables mentioning the General having told the US envoy that he could consider Asfandyar Wali as a possible replacement of Mr Zardari.

The leak implicating the Army Chief is intriguing. But then he remains at the centre of the WikiLeaks disclosure just because he frequently shared his views with American diplomats about the incompetence and corruption of the elected government. The armys contempt for the political leadership is no secret. Nor is the fact that Pakistans military establishment faces least resistance in meddling in the civilian affairs even when a democratic dispensation is in place. The convenience with which General Kayani conveys armys concerns about President Zardari or his personal dislike for Nawaz

Sharif to a foreign diplomat reflects a peculiar mindset showing least regard for the public mandate.

There wont be too may takers for Ambassador Pattersons view that the Army Chief had not informed the President directly about these concerns because he wanted to avoid confrontation. A New York Times report has pointed out that the United States finds that Mr Zardari is sympathetic to its goals stiff sanctions on terrorist fundings, the closing down of terrorist training camps but lacks the power to fulfill his promises against resistance from the military and intelligence agencies. So if General Kayani wields the real power the Americans would obviously like to listen to him on what exactly Pakistan could do to win the ongoing war on terror.

It is a normal practice with the diplomats to interact with the people in the countries they are posted and report these meetings back home confidentially for assessment. But Pakistan is probably the only country where political and military elite would be ready to divulge more information than their foreign interlocutors might actually be interested in. It wasnt just General Kayani who gave his judgement about the civilian leadership. Politicians felt even more comfortable talking to the Americans on every issue they might want to discuss with them. The leaked cables quoted Ambassador Patterson as saying Rehman Malik suggested the US hold off alleged predator strikes until after the Bajaur operation. PM Gilani brushed aside his remarks and said, I dont care if they do it as long as they get the right people. Well protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.

The leaked memos also exposed Nawaz Sharif who repeatedly told the US Ambassador that he was pro-American despite his often critical public stance. Probably unaware of General Kayanis views about him, Nawaz was quoted as having thanked the United States for arranging to have Kayani appointed as army chief. More interesting than anything else was a disclosure that Maulana Fazlur Rehman hosted a dinner for Ambassador Patterson in 2007 and sought American support for becoming PM. The Maulana wouldnt have expressed his ambition had he the slightest of doubt about Julian Assange playing mischief down the road.

But what do you have to say about Prime Minister Gilanis damage control exercise days after diplomatic leaks threw the Pakistani polity into tailspin. He invited American Ambassador Cameron Munter to the PM House the other day to reiterate Pakistans resolve to fight terrorism and to reassure him that his government would not let national interest be compromised by the WikiLeaks disclosures. And he was genuinely pleased to hear from Ambassador Munter that nothing could adversely impact the strong and strategic partnership between the two countries.

The writer is Executive Editor, Pakistan Today.