Wikileaks may make counter-terror task more difficult
By Manzoor Ahmed
As rightly feared by the United States, the Wikileaks that has damaged its diplomacy across the globe, and make its fight against terrorism more difficult than it has been.
As it is, America’s partisan war in Iraq, launched in the name of fighting terrorism and countering nuclear proliferation, has come to a naught, leading to a withdrawal that is more like abandonment or evacuation.
And the American fight in Afghanistan, into tenth year this month, has only led to larger, deeper and expensive international involvement with no end in site – whatever the withdrawal plans announced at the recent Lisbon meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
As the French have aptly described them, the Wikileaks – leakage of the US’s 250,000 cables and documents – has been “a diplomatic 9/11” for America.
India has been touched so far, a bit bruised, but has been spared much of the embarrassment, so far, but that may still come in the next tranche of the leaks.
This is precisely the reason why from Hillary Clinton onwards, the US officials are reaching out to India, knowing fully well the Indian sensitivities.
India had not spared even US president Barrak Obama during the high-profile visit, conveying to him the failure of his administration to keep India in the loop about the activities of David Coleman Hadley, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Already, it is clear how the Western powers kept out India, to appease Pakistan, of a meeting on Afghanistan hosted by Turkey. And Pakistan coyly said it was “a mistake” on the part of the hosts.
Clinton acknowledged that the unauthorized release of classified diplomatic cables “undermines our efforts to work with other countries on shared problems.” She said she had personally contacted dozens of her counterparts and other foreign leaders to convey her and President Obama’s dismay at the leaks and intentions to pursue the administration’s “hard work” on alliance-building and international partnerships.
As Prof Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, told the Christian Science Monitor, that while much of the WikiLeaks release “confirms more than it informs,” in other cases the documents will likely cause immediate problems.
“Working with Pakistan’s weak government to ensure that its nuclear materials remain under tight control – a process described in the WikiLeaks papers – will prove even more difficult,” Mr. Haass said in a CFR commentary.
“Counterterrorism efforts in Yemen might also be set back as the leadership there might well feel the need to distance itself from the United States.”
Haass has focused on Yemen, the US’s latest concern on the terrorism front.
In one cable containing a discussion between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and US Gen. David Petraeus, Mr. Saleh allegedly suggests he will continue to insist publicly that US missile strikes against the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen are actually Yemeni government strikes.
US standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel
The Wikileaks succinctly bring out how the US has led top secret efforts to remove highly enriched uranium from Pakistan for years, worried it could be used to make an “illicit” nuclear device.
Obviously upset, Pakistan criticized the release of classified US diplomatic cables that raise concerns that highly enriched uranium could be diverted from its nuclear program to build an illicit weapon.
The New York Times said they were among quarter of a million confidential American diplomatic cables released by whistleblower WikiLeaks in what Pakistan, expectedly, condemned as an “irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”.
The country’s nuclear arsenal is one of the most sensitive topics for the United States as it tries to improve relations with the conservative Muslim nation on the front line in the campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Islamist militants embarked on a nationwide bombing campaign across Pakistan in 2007, the same year that the Times said the secret efforts began.
In May 2009, it quoted then US ambassador Anne Patterson as saying that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts.
Islamabad has been adamant that its nuclear weapons are in safe hands and US President Barack Obama has publicly concurred.
But the Times said the leaked documents showed the United States trying to remove the uranium from a research reactor, fearing it could be diverted for use in an “illicit nuclear device”.
The newspaper did not elaborate on how the United States had sought to remove the uranium or the nature of any such device.
Experts estimate that Pakistan already has up to 100 nuclear weapons.
There is little doubt that Pakistan and its leaders come out in poor light, even among the Islamic nations that they claim to be close to.
Wikileaks “confirm more than inform”, in words of Richard Haass, about the Muslim world’s growing concerns and a measure of distancing from Pakistan’s fomenting of religious extremism at home and exporting it abroad – not to mention its sheltering militants of different nationalities.
The Wikileaks also confirm the poor opinion Gulf leaders of the current Pakistani leadership.
The king of Saudi Arabia reportedly called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari “the greatest obstacle to the country’s progress,” The New York Times said.
“When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body,” the newspaper quoted King Abdullah as saying.
Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar dismissed the reported comment, saying “President Zardari regards Saudi King Abdullah as his elder brother.”
“The so-called leaks are no more than an attempt to create misperceptions between two important Muslim countries,” he said.
But much of the world, both Western and Muslim, knows Zardaris’ reputation for corruption, being known as “Mr Ten Percent.”
The United States has longstanding concerns about proliferation from Pakistan and is reported to have set up an elite squad that could fly into the country and attempt to secure its weapons should the government disintegrate.
Pakistan announced that it had nuclear weapons in 1998. Western analysts believe China assisted Pakistan in developing the Khushab nuclear site to produce plutonium, which can be miniaturised for cruise missiles — presumably aimed at India.
In 2004, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s bomb, confessed to running a nuclear black market that sent secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He was put under house arrest for five years.
There are other gems about Pakistan and its leaders:
- In July 2009, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and de facto defence chief, said Zardari was “dirty but not dangerous.”
- Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was “dangerous but not dirty — this is Pakistan.” He said Sharif, who heads the main opposition party to Zardari, could not be trusted to honour his promises.
* A rail link between Iran and Pakistan would be delayed for the foreseeable
future because of unrest from Baluch militants in both countries. “The
current rail connection, running between Quetta, Pakistan and Zahedan, Iran
is in poor condition and has low freight-carrying capacity. Moreover,
according to reports it has recently been repeatedly subject to rocket attacks
and other disruption by Baluchi tribes.”
- Likewise, a natural gas pipeline agreement between Iran and Pakistan, signed with great fanfare earlier this year, is unlikely to bear fruit anytime soon because “the Pakistanis don’t have the money to pay for either the pipeline, or the gas.”
More is yet to come from Wikileaks, what with the close US-Pakistan ties and the American/NATO’s dependence on Pakistan to extricate themselves from Afghanistan. (ends)