Now it seems that WikiLeaks will hit Pakistan’s newsstands on a regular basis as excerpts pertaining to Pakistan and India will be published by prominent newspapers on both sides of the border. Notwithstanding the credibility that the publication of WikiLeaks would bring to the table of some groups and hence increasing their sales and general profitability, the benefit that this publication will bring to society will vary from one country to another.
For Pakistan, the publication of the first story regarding the army’s top bosses being complicit in the drone attacks by the US inside Pakistan should have completely rocked the boat. Instead, this seems to have passed as yet another story. The news about the army’s agreement to allow the US to use Pakistani territory for drone attacks is nothing new. It has little news or surprise value. But what is surprising is that the leak got published at a time when the parliament and the country are abuzz with the debate on Pakistan’s sovereignty. We know now that the establishment was complicit in allowing the US to negate the sovereignty factor. Would the situation be the same had the name in the story been that of Asif Ali Zardari?
The army is not likely to confess any role in the drone attacks. The army’s top brass has already pleaded innocence a couple of days ago saying that there was never an agreement between the US and Pakistan on drones and, therefore, the army vociferously condemns drone attacks. The hyper-nationalist media will probably kick into action soon to condemn the story and slate it as another American conspiracy to malign the army.
But these stories – one after the other – underscore the civil-military divide in the country. The military in comparison to the civilian government has the upper hand in the relationship. That is why Washington has to intervene periodically. The post-Mumbai scenario presented through WikiLeaks in which the US government forced Pakistan to send ISI chief General Shuja Pasha to India, or forced India to provide information to Pakistan regarding Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leaders so Islamabad could persecute the militant group leaders, fill in some of the critical information gap. We also know that since Pasha did not eventually go to Delhi, the role of the army was not always compliant. Regarding what the latest round of WikiLeaks brings to our table will, however, become clearer as we have greater access to information. The information available thus far is only sufficient to convince the right-wing hyper-nationalists of the power and correctness of the military vis-à-vis the political government. Many reading this news will probably feel heartened that the army actually decided on its own not to surrender to the will of the US via the civilian government to go to India. Militant forces will feel aggrieved at the US twisting Pakistan’s arms or flexing its muscles to force certain options on Islamabad.
The beginning of the publication of WikiLeaks is indeed the start of the flow of some critical information. However, this flow in itself is no guarantee that a change can be brought about, unless we have the capacity to ask the right questions and raise the right kind of noises.
This is the time for the media and parliament to take note of how the country’s sovereignty is abused. Unless we learn to use this information to our advantage, it will become part of the useless piles of paper that come to nothing at the end of the day.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.