December 12, 2010


[Posted below is what has appeared in today's Newseek Paskistan on the perception of Pakistani people after Wikileaks published "candid assessment by the US diplomats" of the top twelve  key players of Pakistani politics. The Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani said reports that the country's civilian leaders are subservient to military and intelligence chiefs are unfounded. Mr Gillani has dismissed the Wikileaks documents  as saying,  "These are some of the views of junior [U.S.] officers. We should not even take them seriously." But what do the people in Pakistan do ? Do the Pakistani people buy his view ?  Oh, no they don't ! Also please read Ms. Fatima Bhutto's interview, how she loved her aunt Benazir Bhutto. - Editor]

By Jahanzeb Aslam 
The cache of U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks confirms several things Pakistanis already knew about their military and political leaders. But the documents have thrown up some surprises. Pakistan features in about 10 percent of the 600 documents that have been disclosed so far out of an estimated 250,000. The documents offer candid assessments by American diplomats of key players including President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Here’s a quick look at how the Pakistani dramatis personae see each other and are seen by Americans, and by Newsweek Pakistan:


President of Pakistan

Terrified for his life and job, Zardari is still less conspiracy prone than his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, according to U.S. assessments. In May 2008, he conceded that his anti-Pervez Musharraf line was an effort to gain political ground back from the strident and increasingly popular Pakistan Muslim League faction led by Nawaz Sharif. Zardari was pressured by the Americans and the Pakistan Army into according Musharraf a dignified retirement. And the Army forced him to restore Chaudhry as chief justice. Zardari comes across thoughtful and deliberate, but trigger-happy. If he’s bumped off, he wants his sister Faryal Talpur to be the country’s first woman president. Our verdict: Dislike him or hate him, he’s possibly the only man in power who seems to know what he’s doing.

Army Chief

The deep-thinking former spymaster is, surprise!, the ultimate power broker in the country. Kayani is candid with the Americans about the military’s requirements as well as his country’s political situation. Since assuming charge in 2007, he’s diffused at least two political crises: fallout from Musharraf’s threatened impeachment, and the opposition and lawyers’ march on Islamabad in 2009. But he doesn't want the hot seat. “If I had wanted to do this, I would have done it during the long march,” he tells U.S. officials, rejecting coup rumors. Kayani betrays a soldier’s disdain for civilian leaders like Zardari and Sharif. Our verdict: General reputed for being aloof is no shy bird.

Chief Justice

According to an August 2008 cable, Zardari did not want to restore Chaudhry to the Supreme Court, and had planned to offer him the post of Balochistan’s governor. In a November 2009 cable, then U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson dryly notes: “[Interior minister Rehman] Malik’s views on Zardari’s legal troubles presuppose that … Chaudhry will be bound by normal interpretations of the law and precedent. Such an assumption ignores Chaudhry’s penchant for ignoring both in recent rulings and his personal animosity towards … Zardari.” Our verdict: What she said.

Chief, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)

The former prime minister is viewed by the Americans—and the UAE crown prince, and some Afghan officials—as an Islamist having sympathies with the Taliban and their affiliates. In a cable from May 2008, Sharif tells U.S. officials that he is actually “pro-American” and is “hurt” that the U.S. doesn’t remember his deploying Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Sharif also thanks America for having Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appointed as Pakistan’s Army chief, a suggestion the cable mocks. According to the cables, Kayani dislikes Sharif more than he mistrusts Zardari. The Saudis, who took the Sharifs in during the Musharraf years, were livid with Sharif for breaking his promise to keep out of politics until 2010, but have warmed to him, again—largely because of their antipathy toward Zardari.Our verdict: Helen Keller had more vision.

Prime Minister

His quest to be his own man has led to friction between his camp and the president’s. During the lawyers’ “long march” in 2009, Gilani went to the Sharifs with his own rapprochement plan that had not been cleared by Zardari. The president’s people were livid Gilani had “gone off the reservation.” Later, he also urged the Americans to repatriate convicted Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui—who was never in U.S. custody at Bagram—so he could control the streets. In August 2008, he told the Americans to continue with drone strikes as long as these target the right people. “We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it,” he is quoted as saying. Our verdict: How does he still have a job?

Former president

The only common friends sworn enemies Sharif and Musharraf seem to share are the Saudis, who are cited in a February cable longing for “another Musharraf,” another “strong, forceful leader they know they can trust.” In 2007, Musharraf informs U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri “might” be in Pakistan’s Bajaur Agency, but that Mullah Omar never entered the country. Musharraf’s exit from the presidency was supported by Kayani, who considered it important for Army morale that their former chief not be dragged in the courts—or worse. Our verdict: Saudi endorsement could rehabilitate the once popular former general’s street cred.

D.G., Inter-Services Intelligence

No fan of Zardari’s, the soon-to-be-retired spook spoke frankly with American officials about the president’s alleged corruption. He is described as “more emotional than Kayani” and someone who supports backchannel diplomacy with India. Pasha tells Patterson that his agency is “doing everything possible to reduce the possibility of an attack on India” from terrorist outfi ts operating on Pakistani soil. In a November 2009 cable, interior minister Malik complains to U.S. officials about Pasha, accusing him of masterminding a campaign to overthrow the president.Our verdict: Happy golfing!

Chief, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam

A partner in the current ruling coalition in Islamabad, Rehman wooed Patterson in November 2007 seeking U.S. support for his ambition to become prime minister. “He has made it clear,” reads the ambassador’s cable, “that … his still signify cant number of votes are up for sale.” Since the leaks, Rehman’s spokesman has denied the cleric-turned-politician ever sought U.S. support to become prime minister. He says Rehman believes in democracy, and in the people of Pakistan, who are the only power that matters. Our verdict: Chee, thanks for clearing that.

Chief, Awami National Party

During the March 2009 crisis that was precipitated by Zardari’s decision to sack the Sharifs’ government in the Punjab, Kayani told the Americans that Khan could be a replacement for Zardari as president. “This would not be a formal coup but would leave in place the PPP government led by P.M. Gilani, thus avoiding elections that would likely bring Nawaz Sharif to power,” reads Patterson’s cable. Khan balked at the offer, and is also quoted in the cables alleging that Sharif’s PMLN is being funded by the Saudis. Our verdict: He’d make a swell prez.

Interior minister

Needy and paranoid, the cables’ portrait of Malik is not flattering. In a cable from November 2009, when the Supreme Court was hearing the case against the now struck-down amnesty law, the National Reconciliation Ordinance, Malik “was clearly worried that President Zardari and his inner circle of advisors—including Malik—had lost the support of the international community.” It reports that “Malik’s view that [ISI’s] Pasha is behind the moves against President Zardari … is either naïve or intentionally misleading.” Our verdict: Just what Pakistan needs, a naïve interior minister.

Member of Parliament, Activist

In February 2009, Zardari tells Patterson that his party’s Rehman is “dying for the job” of Senate chairman, but that there weren’t enough votes to get a woman elected to the position. The stumbling block was apparently coalition partner JUI-F. The job went to Farooq Naek. Rehman resigned from the federal government a month later during the “long march” crisis after some television channels alleged, on air, that they had been blacked out. She was replaced by Fauzia Wahab as party spokesperson. Raza Rabbani had also been vying for the Senate position. Our verdict: You’ve come a long way, baby. 

Chief, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

U.S. officials seemed to have asked interior minister Rehman Malik not to arrest former cricketer and still-upcoming politician Khan during the March 2009 crisis. In a February 2010 cable, officials report Khan’s “blunt views” on America and Pakistan’s Army, which he accused of extrajudicial killings and “sexual humiliation” of residents in Swat and the tribal belt. Our verdict: Don’t quit your day job. Seriously.
(After the disclosures, someone authored their own cables and tried to pass them off as the real deal. Pakistani newspapers were, of course, only too happy to oblige. Read that sorry story here.)