The trove of diplomatic communications of US diplomats, stolen and disclosed by WikiLeaks, currently hogs front page headlines. Beyond the hype and gossipy nature of the cables, one doesn’t find any groundbreaking, earth-shattering information. Diplomats are courteous creatures with a pleasant disposition and an effortless ability to wax eloquent about political and geo-strategic matters. They have to charm their guests with flattering and ingratiating conversations. But that is just one aspect of their job. Diplomatic niceties and etiquette are just means to wean valuable information as they report back to their capitals. Can US diplomats be then faulted for being frank in their assessments? The judgmental characterisations of personalities and subjective interpretations of events are inevitable for any diplomat. Whether such behaviour can be characterised as duplicity and deceit and not diplomacy is a subject of debate and opinion.
That said, WikiLeaks disclosures do serve as an embarrassment for the American foreign policymakers and other officials by laying out in the open what had been said in private and written in the supposed privacy and insulation of well-guarded embassy compounds.
Specifically with regards to Pakistan, what has been revealed through WikiLeaks till now isn’t a huge surprise. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme has been viewed warily and suspiciously by the West, and especially the United States. The testing of the bomb resulted in sanctions that were lifted only after 9/11. The Pakistani establishment has jealously guarded the nuclear programme, balked at efforts to roll it back and resisted efforts at international monitoring or oversight.
Should it then be a surprise that Americans continue to view the nuclear programme unfavourably? Not really. Pakistani officials, both military and civilian, and the public continue to believe that the US wants to ‘denuclearise’ the country and a top army general pointed to that in a briefing to journalists over the weekend.
The Saudis might have had good relations with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but the relationship underwent a downward spiral since then. It has hit the proverbial (and much-loved phrase used by Pakistani generals) ‘rock bottom’ after Asif Ali Zardari became president. Since the 80s, Saudis have supported right-wing politicians and religious groups. The assessment of the Saudi king about President Zardari has obviously elated his opponents and roiled up his followers. The comment by the presidential spokesperson is a bit perplexing, nonetheless, when he dubbed the WikiLeaks as a conspiracy to spoil relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Since government officials here had already been warned by the American government, maybe he could come up with a better response.
But obviously the titbits of information pouring out of WikiLeaks would be used by different political groups and personalities as political cannon and fodder. Former president Pervez Musharraf would find it hard to fend off criticism over the ostensible Israeli support for his regime. Mr Musharraf, in turn, would find some solace from the comments by UAE defence minister who found Mr Nawaz Sharif untrustworthy and dangerous.
But most importantly, WikiLeaks is being used by conspiracy theorists and rumour mongers. After all, there is a penchant for juicy gossip and grand conspiracy here. A culture that lacks transparency doesn’t help either. It is almost impossible for some to believe that WikiLeaks can work independently of the US government. Already, some are portraying WikiLeaks as a front for Mossad or CIA that is bent upon exacerbating and exploiting the Shiite-Sunni divide in the Muslim world.
Still, more revelations by WikiLeaks are in store and, with those, maybe we should brace for some surprises.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2010.