WikiLeaks offer amazing disclosures but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, these are subjective assessments by American diplomats. And second, while reading the media reports, beware of spin. For instance, the Pakistani media is quick to point out that our government colluded with the US government on drones. It also readily notes that our civilian and military leadership cosies up to American diplomats. This is all true, worrisome and must be brought to the attention of our citizens. But so should the cable that does not validate previous media suspicions, such as the fact that Aafia Siddiqui may not have been held in Bagram or the fact that there are cables to suggest that Gilani, Kayani and Musharraf have, at times, spoken their minds and challenged the American worldview. Nawaz Sharif, moreover, firmly held his ground and refused to be coerced in the case of the restoration of the chief justice. To use the cables only to reinforce the oft-prevailing view that Pakistan is a ‘client state’ is not doing justice to the revelations.
If the cables from embassies other than Islamabad are perused, it becomes evident that the degree of American infiltration around the globe is concerning and reaches far beyond Pakistan. To cite a few examples, Russia was persuaded by the Americans to ban the sale of S-300 air defence missile systems to Iran. The Spanish government was pressured by the Americans to close a court case in which a Spanish cameraman was killed in Baghdad by US army fire, thereby ensuring that US soldiers indicted by the Spanish court were not arrested. In Germany, a top aide to the German foreign minister was used as a mole by the US to spy on coalition-building talks to build a new government in Germany. These are all stories from relatively powerful countries, what to speak of other developing countries. Perhaps that is what happens when there is only one superpower left in the world. It exerts undue influence and others try to ingratiate themselves to it, as David Cameron was quoted assuring the Americans in one cable, that “the Tories are pro-American”.
And yet there is also evidence to suggest that in spite of such power, there are times when things simply do not go according to plan for the Americans and then they do resign themselves and work with the new reality. A good example is Turkey. There are enormous amounts of cables emanating from the embassy in Ankara. One dated December 8, 2005 is subtitled, “Despite wishful thinking, the Justice Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi — AKP) not crumbling yet”. In the earlier cables, the ambassador in Turkey underplays Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP’s hold on power and yet by 2005, one notices the change in tone. The dislike does not change but the realisation that America must work with the powers that be, comes through. In Pakistan too, there are instances of US wishes not coming to fruition.
In one cable, for example, Anne Patterson writes, “no amount of money will stop Pakistan from supporting the Afghan Taliban”. Although the wisdom of this Pakistani policy may be debated, it is clear that it is not dictated by America. A better example is that of the lawyers’ movement, which succeeded in spite of efforts to the contrary, from not just the United States but also Saudi Arabia and China. Thus, in one cable Patterson acknowledges: “This is not a failed state. Pakistan has solid albeit weak institutions, a robust if often irresponsible media, established although under-equipped police forces, an increasingly strong civil society, and a population with a proven resiliency to withstand everything from earthquakes to kleptocracy.” Yet, to quote Patterson again, “the myth of US influence” controlling all in Pakistan is pervasive and constantly fed by our media. We need to stop beating ourselves up and get rid of this self-defeatism. As long as we believe we can control our own destiny, we will.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2010.