Friends but masters

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While the David vs. Goliath saga continues, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is clearly the winner. The sole superpower and its allies, with all their might and advances in cyber technology, have not been able to block the outpouring of information from the trove of downloaded cables.

While it is still being assessed whether Pakistans vital interests have been compromised by the leaks, the people are being treated to a wide variety of information that they could not have even dreamed of getting from their own government or, for that matter, the media. As a result, our leadership across the board, both khaki and civilian, have a lot of egg on their face. But once the dust settles more good than harm should come from this.

It can be deduced from the leaks that diplomacy is another form of journalism. Millions of cables sent by ambassadors to their governments are simply passing on information with all the appended bias in favour of the foreign policy they are paid to promote. The only difference is that in this age of paperless cyber world, this mostly vital but titillating stuff does not fall in the category of burn after reading

As the former editor of the London Times and respected author Harold Evans succinctly wrote in the Financial Times: Are the drive by character assassinations of foreign leaders incidental or integral to judgment of them? Information to be meaningful needs context and perspective.

In the context of Pakistan, the leaked cables have buttressed already known perceptions about the manner in which outside powers literally attempt to run our affairs, albeit with a fair amount of success. It seems that the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are those countries whose leaders and diplomats take a keen and intrusive interest in our internal affairs. This sometimes unhealthy interest is confused by our spin-doctors as Pakistans strategic importance.

Doors open for ambassadors of these countries much beyond their protocol level. From presidents, prime ministers and chief ministers to ministers all are keen to hear them and be heard by them. Even relatively junior US diplomats are incessantly wined and dined by the leaders and the elite.

A former Principal Officer of the US in Lahore Brian Hunt was a player around town. Despite being a relatively junior officer of the US diplomatic service, doors will open for him wherever he went.

The cherubic gentleman, always dressed in shalwar kurta in the prelude to the 2008 election was running from pillar to post canvassing for the PML(Q). However, when the Q lost the elections, he was a constant visitor at Riawind, keeping the Sharifs in good humour. Much before a section of the media started giving deadlines about the exit of Mr. Zardari, he was openly predicting the imminent demise of the government.

General Kayani confiding to the US ambassador Anne Patterson that he had toyed with the idea of ousting the President and Zardari telling her that he feared for his life is surprising enough. But what is even more surprising is the military contemplating Asfandyar Wali as a possible replacement. In the past, the ubiquitous establishment viewed the defunct National Awami Party and its successor the ANP as a security risk. But it seems since Asfandyars US sponsored visit to Washington in 2006, his credentials have markedly improved.

The present government is blamed for letting Musharraf go abroad scot-free. The PML(N) leadership laments that he was given a guard of honour on his departure abroad and has off and on demanded for his extradition. Now it is revealed in the cables that it was the COAS who lobbied hard for his safe passage, while the politicians were getting the flak for it.

The former high commissioner of Britain, Mark Lyall Grant, played a major role in brokering a deal between the late Ms Benazir Bhutto and general Musharraf that paved the way for the fatal return of the PPP co-chairperson to Pakistan in October 2007. Mr. Grant, now UKs Permanent Representative at the UN, after completing his tenure midstream in the elections turmoil, handled matters from Whitehall.

The leaked cables do not show Americas principal ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, in a good light. They lay bare the dependence of the kingdom on the West for its security. The Saudis egging the West to attack Iran before it becomes a nuclear power and the UAE ruler giving the same advice in the immediate aftermath of his visit to Tehran is worrisome to say the least.

The Saudis disdain for democracy in the Islamic world is evident from the visceral hatred or general indifference shown towards civilian leaders in Pakistan, while Their Highnesses are perfectly comfortable doing business with dictators like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. They helped Musharraf prolong his rule by air lifting Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia and keeping him there till Benazirs return made his stay in Jeddah untenable.

Admittedly the Saudis cannot be entirely blamed for this dependence. Nawaz Sharif was desperate to leave. And then our successive leaders want the Kingdoms oil and money. They are entitled to their views about Mr. Zardari. But being wary of him because of his Shia credentials means that the Saudis are not comfortable with Islamabad getting any closer to Tehran.

By some accounts, more than 2000 cables pertaining to Pakistan are still in the pipeline. Hence, we should brace for more embarrassing disclosures. It is being speculated that some of the cables pertain to some big names in the media. As journalists are an important source of information for diplomats, this is not at all surprising.

Despite half hearted denials, what has appeared till now based on the WikiLeaks is perceived to be true. However, it is not expected that our leadership will learn any lessons. The quagmire we find ourselves in leaves little room for independence or self-respect.

Our dire economic straits have made us even more dependant on our friends. Ironically, our India-centric security paradigm has compelled us to do the wests bidding on our western borders so that we can get enough arms and money to secure our Eastern borders.

Although our media rightly takes a lot of pride in asserting its independence and protecting its newfound freedom, WikiLeaks have shown that it has a long way to go. The media, with all its perceived fearlessness, has not even scratched the surface below which there is a lot of muck to be cleaned. There are still too many no-go areas which are taboo for the media. Far from that, a couple of days ago, certain sections of the press even dressed up some propaganda as one of the WikiLeaks cables, one that completely parroted the establishments narrative. Thats the free and fair media for you.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today.