Learning from the leaks

Published: December 16, 2010
The writer served as director-general of the ISI from 1990-92 

The writer served as director-general of the ISI from 1990-92 asad.durrani@tribune.com.pk

Post-“diplomatic 9/11”, the US reminded us that all the leaks notwithstanding, since none of our pressing issues — the environment, the Middle East, the nuclear issue — can be resolved without its help; we have no choice but to keep talking to it. Agreed; never mind that it is the US that obstructs the resolution of these issues. “Soon the leaks would be history” was another brave effort to carry on business as usual. Indeed, in due course, they will lose the limelight. Not even 9/11 holds our breath anymore. More importantly, except for embarrassing some politicians with thick skins and diplomats with stiff upper lips, no lasting damage seems to have been done. So let’s make the best of this bonanza for as long as it lasts — and in the process, learn a few lessons.

Diplomacy, often called a country’s first line of defence, adds to a nation’s security by improving its ties with other nations. Since a good part of it is practiced in the public domain, making a reasonable assessment of such relations is not too complex a task. This may partially explain why the ‘Great Leak’ did not make many earth-shaking revelations. In the odd case that it did, some principle of diplomacy had been violated.

‘Play hardball, speak little and concede even less’ is one. Those in important places should not be readily available to foreign emissaries. Jumping to every whistle from the diplomatic enclave leads to increasing whistles and decreasing worth. Beware of a visitor professing infliction from ‘localitus’; a diplomatic infatuation with the host country. The idea is to strike an empathetic cord and loosen clappers. Having someone around from the foreign office before one spilled too many beans was, therefore, a good practice.

The public has been the main beneficiary of these leaks. With its growing appetite to know what goes around, the leaks have helped it distinguish between policy and posture. If the Pakistan-US friendship mantra has to be recited ad nauseam, there must be a problem. And the problem does not lie with the Yanks. With all the Drones and Doles, they have made the nature of this relationship very clear: it is an alliance of convenience; more often of inconvenience. Even their ‘viceroys’ have pleaded — and not only in their cables — that they do not have the clout they are accredited with. Here, again, the leaks provide some consolation. Former empires and nouveau-riche kingdoms and sheikhdoms have not done much better.

Having preached the rule of law to the likes of us, Britain had to constitute an inquiry commission on Iraq; but with a caveat: go easy on the Big Brother. And our brethren in robes spend billions of dollars on arms but still ask the US to do their dirty work in Iran. Let’s not, therefore, judge the Pir of Multan too harshly for moving resolutions and then ignoring them. At least we know now what happened to the much hyped anti-terrorism bill unanimously adopted by the National Assembly in December 2008. It was dumped as directed.

Afghan leaks remain my favourite. They confirm what some here have vainly been suggesting for a long time: “watch out for the rogue groups”. Three thousand locals, trained by American forces as “counterterrorism pursuit teams”, were launched to carry out subversion on both sides of the Durand Line. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan may not have endeared itself to anyone here but not all the mayhem in the country was its handiwork.

And if the leaks can deter some of us from making a beeline for the Fort Alamo in Islamabad, I hope the pipeline never dries up.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Salma
    Dec 16, 2010 - 11:18PM

    Sir, I really enjoy reading your articles.
    ALWAYS so witty and layered.
    Well done!Recommend

  • Asif
    Dec 17, 2010 - 12:56AM

    Actually Durrani saab, the wikileaks really embarass the Pakistani army which you neglect to mention.

    a. they help out israel in india
    b. cooperate with the americans yet hide it better than the politicians whom the army maligns
    c. are with the drone attacks.

    And ohh yess. Most embarassed is the ISI and other agencies. Remember the incompetent fiasco over faked cables?

    Wonder why you neglect to cover this in your article. Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 1:45AM

    Of course no one “except for embarrassing some politicians with thick skins and diplomats with stiff upper lips” was embarrassed. The local media either ignored the cables related to the military or tucked them away on page 9. Just because you ignore them here doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Then again, those whose names feature in the cables passed the threshold of feeling embarrassed a long time ago. Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad
    Dec 17, 2010 - 12:35PM

    What about generals, SIR?Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Dec 17, 2010 - 3:37PM

    As far as Pakistan is concerned, Wiki-Leaks were important in the post creation of Bangladesh (1971) to know what world leaders are thinking about the remaining Pakistan………………………

    The Wiki-Leaks has shown the other side of the picture. Wiki-Leaks were not only important for the media, but it was also essential for a common Pakistani to know the double standard faces of those who talk different language then what they actually mean?

    Wiki-Leaks creator Julian Assange has told to the world what was not available on Wikipedia, therefore, Julian Assange should be given the Noble Peace Prize for the year 2011, for saving the world from unnecessary embarrassment.

    The truth is different. Wiki-Leaks have raised many questions about the diplomacy and what the Head of the States are saying at the back of each other and what diplomats are doing around the world.Recommend

  • Iqbal Khan
    Dec 17, 2010 - 4:05PM

    Mr. Durani ! Please concede the role of Army Generals that got exposed thank to these leaks. These are official documentsRecommend

  • Asad Durrani
    Dec 17, 2010 - 10:12PM

    Thank you Salma. It takes courage to speak up against the general flow. Recommend

  • Dec 18, 2010 - 5:02AM

    3 As are flawless- every bad thing in this land of the pure was done by politicians, any new ideas, thoughts? Well, Wikileaks have stories about the 2 As as well- hmmmmm those tapes must be a conspiracy against the “holy cows” of my country. Right?Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Dec 18, 2010 - 9:54AM

    Well-written, General A.S! You have hit the nail on the head. Our tragedy lies in the fact that we do not learn from history – not even from our own mistakes of yore. Good diplomacy is knowing what not to say and when. Regrettably, we keep on encouraging diplomats who talk their heads off but know not when to keep their mouths shut. WickiLeaks are a welcome bolt from the blue, if only we correctly decipher the signals. Easier said than done, though! Recommend

  • Asad Durrani
    Dec 18, 2010 - 9:23PM

    Well said, Binwakeel.

    And to all those who are missing the Army’s name from this piece: I primarily mentioned two communities affected the most, worldwide. Otherwise, in our case, no diplomat needed to have a red face, and none keeps a “stiff upper lip”. I have in fact recommended that one of them be present in all important meetings, (besides taking notes) to inhibit lose tongues.

    Some frogs never come out of their wells.Recommend

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