Wikileaks revelations: US was concerned about release of terrorists, Karachi port security

Cables described Lal Masjid operation, countered allegations in Aafia Siddiqui case.

Saba Imtiaz August 29, 2011

KARACHI: Many of the more than 1,000 recently released US embassy cables relating to Pakistan speak of Pakistan’s battle against religious extremism and militancy.

While some of the cables show concern on the trends observed by US diplomats, others simply relay what was being reported in the Pakistani media without comment, as if to suggest that the events speak for themselves. In others, US diplomats seek to respond to allegations against the US in the Pakistani media.

Lal Masjid

The 2007 Lal Masjid crisis and military operation is detailed in several cables, which follow the issue since the demolition of mosques in February 2007, which stoked the issue. The embassy assessed that “the PML (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) finds itself outmanoeuvred on this issue and is unwilling to risk the political fallout of marching on with the demolition plan.”

Cables about the military operation quoted official and media reports without comment. Reports of a bomb blast in the nearby Aabpara market later that month stated that “The Aapbara market area has been off-limits to official Americans for years.”

Aafia Siddiqui

The US embassy reported on the coverage of the Aafia Siddiqui case and protests in the country. A cable states: “To counter a growing avalanche of negative press stories alleging that the US has been illegally detaining and torturing ...Dr Aafia Siddiqi, post will place several letters to the editor from Ambassador in local print media.” The letter’s text comprises the US stance on her case.

The transfer of Siddiqui’s son from Afghanistan to Pakistan is in two Kabul embassy cables. One asks for Washington’s guidance on how to handle the transfer and wanted the Afghan government to notify the embassy before it transferred him.

It states: “The (Afghan) Ministry of Foreign Affairs is willing to help us, but it does not have custody of the boy and must rely on cooperation of other (government of Afghanistan) agencies.”  A cable sent four days later stated that the US had no objection to Ahmad’s release to relatives in Pakistan.

Ahmad was transferred from a juvenile detention centre to the Afghan National Directorate of Security to prepare for his release.

Pan Am Flight 73 hijackers release

In January 2008, the US sent a demarche to the Foreign Ministry – not described in the cables – over the release of four Palestinian men who were jailed in 1988 for their involvement in the 1986 Pan Am Flight 73 hijacking.

The men were released to the Palestinian mission in Islamabad after the Pakistan Federal Review Board reviewed their cases. In response to the demarche, a Foreign Ministry official told the US that they did not know where the released men were but would forward their request to the relevant ministry. The men were mentioned in a 1989 report on terrorism – that they were still imprisoned and their appeals were pending in courts.

US concerned over port security

In January 2009, the US State Department expressed its concern over the level of port security in Pakistan, because it did not “adequately reflect the current threat situation given recent terrorist events in Pakistan and within the region.”

The cable was sent two months after the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and mentions an “increased risk”. However, the US understood that additional port security would burden “Pakistan’s fragile democracy”.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th,  2011.

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