Leaks about Pakistan confirm many theories

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The Independent Online

Pakistan yesterday made a show of denouncing the publication of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables and insisted its nuclear stockpile was in no danger of falling into the hands of extremists.

The country's High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said the material had a "foolproof control and command system". "We have always been telling them straight forward that [the nuclear weapons] are in secure hands, they don't have to worry about it and we will protect them," he told the BBC. "They are the dearest assets that we have and we'll not allow anything to fall into any adventurer's hands."

But even as Mr Hasan was defending Pakistan and condemning Wikileaks, some observers thought that perhaps the most striking thing about the secret cables was not that they contained amazing new revelations but that they confirmed what many in Pakistan believed for some time about various issues confronting their country. It is just that the US usually says the opposite, at least in public.

More than one commentator remarked on the perceptiveness of then Ambassador Anne Patterson, dispatcher of many of the cables, as revealed by the messages she sent to the State Department in Washington. "Wikileaks have taken the way we do politics in Pakistan out of the closet," said Ayesha Tammy Haq, a talk-show host.

Certainly, for the student of Pakistani affairs and in particular the country's troubled relationship with Washington, there is much minutiae to savour. Who would not be intrigued by President Asif Ali Zardari's purported fear that the army may try and assassinate him and his belief that in such circumstances his sister, Faryal Talpur, should succeed him? Who would not smile at then chief of Britain's defence staff, Sir Jock Stirrup's assessment of Mr Zardari as a "numbskull"?

More seriously, the cables also provide confirmation that US special forces have worked on the ground in Pakistan and give previously unreported details about where they were located and what they were doing.

But on the larger themes and broader issues, the cables offer only confirmation rather than surprise. Few really believed, for instance, the current US strategy of providing billions of dollars of support to the Pakistan military would persuade the army to drop its support for militant elements it considers a vital strategic asset.

"The 'revelations' that concern Pakistan-US relations come as no surprise to anyone, I think. For the last several years, there have been suspicions in Pakistan about US intentions, actions, and plans, and vice versa," said Bina Shah, a Karachi-based writer and columnist. "The diplomatic cables only serve to confirm what people have been worried about, especially in regard to the US fears about our nuclear assets."

Such assessments bring into sharp relief the public pronouncements made by US over certain events. For instance, in the aftermath of the Pakistan military's operation last spring to drive Taliban fighters from the Swat valley, there were many claims by human rights activists that death squads were killing suspected militants. When asked about this, the US said it was raising the issue with the Pakistanis. We now know that the US had convincing evidence about a hundred such killings but decided to keep quiet in order not to lose the "goodwill" of the army.

Likewise, when Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker last year about the extent of American anxiety over the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, his claims were routinely dismissed. At the very least his article now bears reading again.

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