The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
The revelations made in the US diplomatic cables released to the media by Wikileaks have confirmed what has long been an open secret: that Pakistan’s ruling class has reduced this country of 180 million people, the sixth largest in the world and one of only seven or eight nuclear weapons state, to the biggest banana republic. While in public our leaders vow to uphold the country’s sovereignty, in private they collaborate with Western diplomats in engineering political changes in the country, shamelessly vie with each other to curry favour with the Americans, pour their hearts out to the US Ambassador (while lying through their teeth to the Pakistani public), swear their fealty to Washington and beseech its support in their political intrigues. It is not for nothing that the American Ambassador conducts himself as the unofficial US viceroy to the country. But if Pakistan has come close to becoming an American satrapy, the fault lies first and foremost with our own rulers.
It is striking that in the cables so far published on the meetings of the last US Ambassador with our political leaders, whether Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Fazlur Rahman or others, the common thread is their repeated protestation that they are all “pro-American.” Zardari of course goes the farthest in assuring Patterson, both before and after the PPP’s election victory in February 2008, that no other Pakistani leader would serve American interests better and suggesting that he was therefore more deserving of Washington’s support than anyone else.
Zardari’s first meeting with Patterson, which took place in January 2008 – i.e. shortly after Benazir’s assassination – is an impassioned plea for US support to the PPP. In words utterly unbecoming of the leader of a political party of a sovereign country, Zardari said the US was “our safety blanket” and recounted how Benazir had returned despite the threats against her because of “clearance” from the US. In closing, Zardari said flatly, “I need help, especially from the US” to continue the legacy of Benazir. In her cable on this meeting, Patterson commented that Zardari seemingly wanted to be PPP’s candidate for Prime Minister “with (Washington’s) blessing”.
Fazlur Rehman was no less brazen in seeking US support for his political ambitions. In November 2007, he requested Patterson for her backing to become prime minister and expressed a desire to visit America. As Ghafoor Haideri, one of his close associates, explained innocently, “all important parties in Pakistan have to get the approval of the US.” According to Patterson’s account, Fazl also made it clear that “his still significant number of votes are up for sale.”
If Nawaz was not so direct, he too was at pains to convince Patterson that he is “pro-American.” As proof, he reminded her at their meeting in January 2008 that he had overruled his army chief to deploy Pakistani forces in Saudi Arabia with the US coalition in the first Gulf War. Nawaz expressed “hurt” that the US did not remember. Nisar added that at that time the PPP was organising street demonstrations against Pakistan joining the coalition. Nawaz also thanked the US for having arranged the appointment of Kayani as the army chief. The fact that a former prime minister should be welcoming the American hand in the selection of the country’s army chief – whether that be true or not – speaks volumes for the depths to which our politicians have sunk.
Even after the PPP’s election victory, Zardari and company have not stopped grovelling before the Americans. In a meeting with two US congressmen in May 2008, he told them; “We are here because of you... We won’t act without consulting you.” Zardari has certainly kept this promise. He has been consulting the American Ambassador on important policy questions and appointments such as those of the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Senate chairman and National Security Adviser.
It is therefore no wonder that the Americans regard Zardari as the best man to serve their interests in Pakistan. While recognising that his government is “weak, ineffectual and corrupt”, as well as deeply unpopular, Patterson told Washington that “Zardari is our best ally in the government.” A cable sent by her in February 2009 recommends that “we should help the Zardari/Gilani government complete its full five-year term in office”.
The cables show also that Zardari has been confiding in the US Ambassador and visiting US officials about his political woes, especially his fear of being unseated by Kayani, and has been seeking their backing to stay in power. He told Biden in January 2009 about his worries that Kayani wanted to “take (him) out.” Later, in a meeting with Patterson in November 2009, Rehman Malik requested that Washington issue a public statement in support of democracy in order to protect Zardari from military-induced pressure to leave office. In addition, Rehman said, it would help dispel persistent claims by MQM that US and Britain had urged it to withdraw support for the NRO – an indication, incidentally, of MQM’s own links with foreign capitals. Malik also alleged that Saudi Arabia and PML-N were cooperating with the military and MQM to bring Zardari down.
It emerges from the cables that the role of the army chief in the political machinations of our leaders has been murkier than was publicly known so far. During the crisis in August 2008 over Musharraf’s ouster and in February/March 2009 over the restoration of the judiciary, Kayani seems to have encouraged the US Ambassador and possibly even the British High Commissioner to interfere in our domestic politics. This is a clear transgression and must not be condoned.
Kayani also confided in the US Ambassador about his distrust of Nawaz and the selection of a successor to Zardari after his possible removal from the Presidency. This is absolutely not permissible. If an army chief has any personal preferences, he should keep them to himself and certainly not share them with foreign diplomats. Kayani must realise that times have changed since the days when he was actively involved in negotiations under US auspices on a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Benazir. We are now supposed to have a democratic order and the army must stay away strictly from domestic politics.
Of all the characters in the country’s political drama, out titular Prime Minister cuts the most pathetic figure. As Patterson writes in one of her cables, Gilani knows his place and will toe Zardari’s line. But Gilani is as guilty as Zardari of munafiqat (duplicity) with the people of Pakistan. While loudly condemning drone attacks in public, in private they tell the Americans to carry on and not to worry. “We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it,” Gilani told the US Ambassador in August 2008. Zardari and Gilani keep lying to the Pakistani public to this day. That they can get away with it shows how rotten our political class has become. As King Abdullah has said, if the head is rotten, the whole body gets infected.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has described the two leading politicians of the country as dirty and dangerous. The people of Pakistan would use these epithets for the entire political class in the country, with the exception of a handful, and they would add two others: disgraceful and contemptible. Wikileaks deserves to be thanked for having bared the true face of Pakistan’s ruling class to the country’s long-suffering people. It cannot be dismissed as an evil “conspiracy” against Pakistan or the Muslim world.
The whole country is shouting that the emperor has no clothes and our rulers are clearly not amused. The political parties, whether in government or in opposition, are already mulling how to muzzle the voice of the people. Let us brace ourselves for a crackdown.