ISLAMABAD: Officials looking after domestic security affairs are worried about apparent attempts by western diplomats in Islamabad to ‘micromanage’ the country’s politics through frequent interactions with political and religious leaders.
A list compiled by top security agencies contained details of American and British diplomats meeting politicians 70 times between April 12 and June 28 this year, averaging almost a meeting a day. These interactions are exclusive of national days and receptions frequently attended by politicians at diplomatic missions.
Security officials complained that most such interactions go “unreported” in the media and are said to be a cause of friction between the US and Pakistan military.
The list of those having these meetings contain top- and second-tier leaders from almost all mainstream political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamiat Ulama-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, JUI-F President Maulana Fazlur Rehman, MQM senior leader Dr Farooq Sattar, PPP leader Raza Rabbani, PML-Q supremo Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, his cousin Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Syeda Abida Hussain and her entire family, Information Minister Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan and Aftab Sherpao are among the politicians who had one-on-one meetings with US diplomats.
Several second-tier leaders from almost all major political parties met in groups with the US and UK diplomats.
The meeting between US Ambassador Cameron Munter and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on May 14 was also attended by a senior CIA official stationed in Pakistan.
Sharif’s spokesman Senator Pervez Rasheed declined to comment.
“Those were private interactions and I have no knowledge of it,” he insisted.
Security operators claim the purpose of such activities was to create “pressure groups of friendly politicians to make or break future governments in Pakistan”.
“It seems as if they were working on long-term plans … and the specific purpose is to make sure that they control the future political dispensation in Pakistan,” an intelligence official said, citing a security assessment.
Politicians who have been frequently ‘brainstorming’ with the Americans accused the diplomats of “trying to influence political thought”.
“They not only tried to influence me but also threw offers to me to work for them … to watch out for their interests,” said Tahir Mashhadi, a senator from the MQM, “but I’m a true patriot. I never (pay) heed to them.”
Knowledgeable officials said security bosses had raised this issue with the Americans during their recent ‘crisis talks’ held to repair ties strained by a secret raid inside Pakistan by US commandos to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May this year.
“This was always one of the conflicting issues on the table … our side kept on raising it,” disclosed another official.
The document, which was seen by The Express Tribune, disclosed that top leaders from almost all political outfits had been meeting with western diplomats – mostly from the US – frequently, ignoring protocols and established norms by the country’s foreign ministry.
According to rules, all public office holders are supposed to seek prior permission from the foreign ministry for any engagement with foreign diplomats.
“Foreign Office officials should also sit in on those interactions,” commented a former diplomat Tariq Fatemi. “Unfortunately, this SOP is hardly being followed.”
An official from the Foreign Office acknowledged that the “exercise has almost (entirely) been abandoned”.
“I am not sure if the Foreign Office is informed in advance about the meetings you are referring to,” said the official, who requested not to be named.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2011.
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