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Why Pakistanis Are Hopping Mad
From the time WikiLeaks began to out the diplomatic cables, watching TV news has become akin to viewing Bollywood political satires. The anchor’s announcement of every WikiLeaks cable pertaining to Pakistan is accompanied by old footage of former US ambassador Anne Patterson meeting President Asif Ali Zardari or Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani or army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani or ISI boss Shuja Pasha or Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif. In the background plays the raunchy number from Dabaangg, Munni badnaam hui, darling tere liye.
The splicing of the song with the WikiLeaks cables provides a subtext every Pakistani has grasped—Patterson may be blamed for reporting to Washington her private conversations with Pakistani leaders, but she wouldn’t have cabled headquarters had they not whispered to her their secret desires and deep fears, unmindful of shaming their country, at times even guilty of compromising state secrets. Indeed, Pakistan’s who’s who, courtesy WikiLeaks, come across as petty, hungry for power, and contemptuous of their people.
Perhaps nobody’s reputation has been harmed more than that of Gen Kayani, who had concertedly tried to portray himself as an apolitical general. Earlier this year, in a special briefing for military analysts, this correspondent asked Gen Kayani whether he’d emulate other generals in throwing out a civilian government and grabbing power. “General, it’s in your DNA,” I said. Prompt was his reply, “I’ve no (political) DNA.” He said his lack of political ambition could be testified by former director-general of ISI Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, who was Kayani’s instructor in the army and was also present at the briefing.
WikiLeaks has belied Kayani’s protestations. One cable reveals that Kayani was prepared to replace Zardari with Awami National Party’s Asfandyar Khan as president. Since the new arrangement would have required the support of Sharif’s party, Kayani dropped the idea because he distrusted and disliked Sharif even more than Zardari. In the cable, Patterson says Kayani thought even Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, would make for a better president than him.
Kayani’s political ambition has lowered the respect people had of him, says Gen Durrani. “Of course, there were also suspicions earlier but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Why did he seek a three-year extension? Why did he share his thoughts with Patterson? During the days in the army, he spoke little, but when he did, he spoke words of substance,” Durrani told Outlook. Power, as we all know, warps most personalities. As journalist George Fulton commented in The Express Tribune, “I thought the decision (to appoint the president) fell to the Pakistani people at the ballot box, not a man who wears spaghetti on his shoulders. The reason they are a client state to the US is because the army is the largest mercenary force in the world.”
WikiLeaks also brings to the fore Kayani’s doublespeak on the country’s vital security interests. Contrary to the military’s repeated public disclaimers, the leaked cables show that Kayani allowed US drones to maintain bases in Pakistan and American special forces to operate secretly inside the tribal areas; that he was willing to permit the US to remove nuclear material from a nuclear research reactor, but only pulled back fearing a media backlash. Quite sacrilegiously, according to a Wikileaks cable, dated October 7, ’09, the ISI boss, Gen Pasha, had been in direct touch with Israel on possible terror threats against Israeli targets in India. Says senior analyst Dr Shireen Mazari, “What message are we conveying to the Palestinians as the army looks up to Patterson as a glorified agony aunt for a solution to all their problems?”
There’s already a clamour for prosecuting former national security advisor Gen Mahmud Durrani, who, one WikiLeaks cable reveals, handed over the draft of an in-camera briefing by Gen Pasha to parliamentarians on military operations against militants. Says former ISI chief Gen (retd) Hamid Gul, “Without waiting for more revelations, Durrani must be immediately prosecuted as he violated the Official Secret Act.”
As the WikiLeaks tsunami continues to hit Pakistan inexorably, newspapers are having a field day frontpaging the leaks that lay bare the hypocrisy of the country’s leaders. There’s such a lavish spread of sensational items to choose from—the Sharifs tipping off Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed about the imminent UN sanctions against him; Zardari promising to a visiting Congressional team that he wouldn’t make political moves without consulting the US; and Nawaz Sharif blithely assuring Patterson that he’s pro-US despite his public stance to the contrary.
But one WikiLeaks cable did cheer Islamabad, for it says the United Arab Emirates informed the US last December that India was funding the Pakistani Taliban and Pashtoon separatists. The leaked cable notes, “The State Department cable on the conversation confirmed the lingering suspicion about India’s covert ties with the Taliban, especially after New Delhi’s enhanced presence in Afghanistan. The UAE’s General Department of state security noted that besides India, Iran is also supporting the Taliban in Pakistan.”
The WikiLeaks cables indeed testify to a stark competition among Pakistani leaders to win Patterson’s approval, to prove their loyalty to Uncle Sam. And the lady, who’s now known as Munni, comes across as quite amused. To Sharif’s effusive praise to the US for scripting the appointment of Kayani as army chief, Munni wrote back to Washington, “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”
But US influence in Pakistan isn’t the stuff of myth, nor is Munni’s penchant for playing tough games. The WikiLeaks cables shows Kayani told Pervez Musharraf in ’08 that he should resign as president since his likely successor, Zardari, had promised to grant him immunity from prosecution. Once Zardari stepped into the President’s House, he didn’t seem as enthusiastic about the word given to Kayani. Patterson acerbically noted in a cable, “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on an immunity deal (for Musharraf).”
Pity, Patterson is not around to see the controversy her cables have stoked. Munni, your darlings are missing you!!