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Old Saturday, December 18, 2010
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Default Exposed - Asif Ezdi

Monday, December 13, 2010


Asif Ezdi

During the Musharraf dictatorship, much of the most important diplomatic business between Pakistan and the US used to be conducted through telephone calls from Washington and in direct dealings between him and the US ambassador. The main “advantage” of this form of diplomacy for both sides was that Washington got its response promptly, while Musharraf was able to cut out from the decision-making process all but a small band of chosen and faithful advisers, held together and guided solely by a common wish to prolong their hold on power. In one call shortly after 9/11, Colin Powell delivered his famous ultimatum to Musharraf and quickly got his consent.

The coming into office of an elected government in 2008 was supposed to change that. But as the French saying goes plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The people have changed but the way the affairs of state are run has not. That is especially true of the manner in which top-level diplomacy with the US is conducted. As the cables released by Wikileaks confirm, the doors of the Presidency are always open for the US ambassador. Zardari himself meets him frequently or telephones with Washington, sometimes without the knowledge of the Foreign Ministry.

A cable sent by Ambassador Patterson following a meeting with Zardari on January 2, 2009 is both revealing and shocking. It says: “Zardari reminded the ambassador that it had only taken a ‘phone call’ from the US to ensure that Pakistan did not oppose the US-India civil nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.” She was referring to the discussions at the IAEA Board of Governors in July-August 2008 on a safeguards agreement with India which cleared the way for the approval of the India-US nuclear deal by the Nuclear Suppliers Group shortly afterwards.

Pakistan had initially objected to the safeguards agreement but later gave up its opposition under US pressure. Now we know that only a ‘phone call’ from the US had sufficed to produce this turnaround. There is more. The cable goes on to say that “Zardari emphasised he had no problem making decisions, recalling that we had asked him to refuse the release of detainees in the context of ‘peace deals’ [with Islamic militants] when the army and the ISI were pressing to do so.”

It is breathtaking that Zardari was at such pains to assure the US ambassador that he had no qualms about setting aside the advice of the Foreign Ministry or the army when it went against US wishes. A more obsequious act by a person occupying the highest office of state is hard to imagine.

The cables also reveal that Zardari has been talking to the Americans and the Brits on ISI appointments and a “reform” of the agency, codeword for bringing it under civilian control and curtailing its sphere of activity. Most countries would brook no foreign meddling in such matters but Pakistan under its present rulers is an exception. Zardari discussed this matter in November 2008 in a telephone call from Miliband, then the Foreign Secretary of Britain.

While Pakistani political leaders, whether in the government or in the opposition, have been assuring the US ambassador that they could be counted upon to take care of American interests, none of the cables released so far shows that they took up issues of vital national interest to Pakistan such as the US push to “make” India a global power or the denial of civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan. A cable sent by the US ambassador in February 2010 reports on the unhappiness in “Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment” on the US favouring India over Pakistan, most notably by civil nuclear cooperation with India. But our political leaders either have no comprehension of these matters or are so keen for US favours that they do not want to jeopardise it by raising “inconvenient” subjects.

If the Wikileaks cables have unmasked the true face of our rulers, they have also further exposed the duplicity of the Western countries which deny Pakistan access to civilian nuclear technology and regularly berate the country for allowing “terrorism” from its soil while they remain mum on Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.

The main reason why the US continues to deny civilian nuclear cooperation to Pakistan today is that it does not want to displease India. But Washington has refused to admit it and instead seeks to justify its refusal on grounds of Pakistan’s “proliferation record”. A cable on the meeting between Senator Kerry and Zardari in January this year now implicitly confirms that India has been given a veto over this question. At this meeting, Kerry said that a “necessary condition for the US to consider civilian nuclear assistance to Pakistan” was “Pakistan’s ability to reach a new security arrangement with India”. The message is clear: Pakistan should first get India to withdraw its veto.

Kerry’s remarks are not necessarily official US policy but what he says is important because of his position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading member of Obama’s political party. Zardari does not seem to have responded to Kerry’s suggestion for a “security arrangement” with India – which brings us to the second main reason why Washington has so far not given any serious consideration to Pakistan’s request for nuclear cooperation: Pakistani leaders have never raised the issue as one of our top priorities or linked it with the topmost US priority vis-à-vis Pakistan, namely getting the country’s cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.

Washington no doubt senses that when Pakistani leaders raise the issue of civilian nuclear cooperation, they do it for much the same reason as they object to drone attacks: to cater to domestic opinion. The real priorities of our rulers, Washington knows, lie elsewhere. As Zardari told Kerry at this meeting, he needed “a deal” with the United States to “strengthen his political position”.

After the revelations made by Wikileaks, the credibility of Pakistan’s political and military leadership and the US government has been eroded further by their lame efforts to question the veracity of the cables. Gilani was easily the most disingenuous when he said that they are “just the views of junior officers” and “are not authentic.” Holbrooke was only slightly less outrageous when he refused to rule out that the cables might have been “doctored.” Similarly, the claim of the ISPR director general that the army has been following a “policy of supporting the political process within the confines of the constitution” will certainly do very little for the credibility of the institution.

If our leadership really wants to win the people’s trust, they should follow the example of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who has publicly declared that if allegations made against him in a leaked cable are proved, he would resign.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email:

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