When the US launched global anti-terrorism efforts soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil, seeking Vatican’s point of view, the seat of the Holy See termed Pakistan “an unreliable coalition player”, distrusting former president Pervez Musharraf, doubting Pakistan’s willingness and sincerity to effectively take part in counter-terrorism efforts.
Diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu newspaper through WikiLeaks detail an increasingly strained relationship between the Vatican and Pakistan, with the former suspecting the latter of supporting radical terrorism.
Two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, US Ambassador Jim Nicholson and South Asia Bureau Afghanistan Coordinator Jeffrey J Lunstead met the Vatican’s Deputy Foreign Minister-Equivalent, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and East Asia and Afghanistan Desk Officer Monsignor Luis Marrano De Montemayor, to discuss US military actions in the Middle East, as well as Pakistan’s role in counter-terrorism actions.
The Vatican’s representatives appeared to be reluctant to trust Pakistan, prompting Lunstead to attempt to mollify their concerns.
Although “Lunstead conceded the problem was grave” and that “certain terrorists in Kashmir had received training in Pakistan and in al Qaida camps,” he made it clear that “the Secretary…had condemned all terrorism.”
“General Musharraf,” Lunstead said, “had a unique opportunity to curb extremist elements in his country,” according to the cable.
However, Lunstead said “while committed to [the American-led] coalition, Musharraf faces domestic pressure because Pakistanis oppose the air campaign,” which led the Pakistani General to call “for its early end”.
While “Migliore worried further at the risk to Pakistan’s stability,” Lunstead “voiced confidence in General Musharraf, praising his swift repudiation of the Taliban, a turnaround that raises hopes Musharraf will now also face down radical Islam within Pakistan,” the cable says.
Over two weeks later, however, the Vatican remained unconvinced.
According to a cable dated November 19, 2001 and classified by Nicholson, Vatican representatives restated that the Holy See “judges Islamabad an unreliable coalition player and distrusts Musharraf”.
“Montemayor made clear that there is no love lost between the Vatican and Musharraf.”
He recounted how “in a late October visit to Islamabad by Archbishop Paul Cordes, head of Cor Unum, the Vatican’s umbrella aid arm, contact with Musharraf and the [government of Pakistan] was kept to a minimum.”
Despite previous US assurances that Pakistan could be trusted, Monsignor Montemayor stated that as far as the Vatican was concerned: “Pakistan…remains a nation of grave concern”.
Monsignor Montemayor then went on to question Pakistan’s loyalty to anti-terrorism efforts, accusing Musharraf of being “unable or unwilling to challenge…radicals.”
“The Vatican strongly doubts reports of a sea change in Musharraf’s politics,” according to the cable. “If Bin Laden finds refuge in Balochistan,” said Monsignor Montemayor: “the US would find Musharraf hard put to deliver on his pledges.”
(This article is a part of the series called The India Cables based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.’)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 03rd, 2011.