Nuclear fuel memos expose wary dance with Pakistan
One secret cable offers another glimpse into another element of the nuclear gamesmanship between the United States and its Pakistani allies: Even while American officials were trying to persuade Pakistani officials to give up nuclear material, they were quietly seeking to block Pakistan from trying to buy material that would help it produce tritium, the crucial ingredient needed to increase the power of nuclear weapons.
After providing specific details of the proposed sale, a Dec. 12, 2008, secret cable to the American Embassy in Singapore, seeking help to stop a transaction that was about to take place, concluded, "We would have great concern over Pakistan's potential use of tritium to advance its nuclear weapons program."
The cables also reveal that the American Embassy had received credible reports of extrajudicial killings of prisoners by the Pakistani Army more than a year before the Obama administration publicly acknowledged the problem and before a video that is said to show such killings surfaced on the Internet. The killings are another source of tension, complicated by American pressure on Pakistan to be more aggressive in confronting militants on its own soil.
In a Sept. 10, 2009, cable labeled "secret/noforn," meaning that it was too delicate to be shared with foreign governments, the embassy confronted allegations of human rights abuses in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas since the Pakistani Army had begun fighting the Taliban a few months earlier.
While carefully worded, the cable left little doubt about what was going on. It spoke of a "growing body of evidence" that gave credence to the allegations.
"The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extrajudicial killing of some detainees," the cable said. "The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan army units." The Frontier Corps is a paramilitary force partly financed by the United States to fight the insurgents.
The Pakistani Army was holding as many as 5,000 "terrorist detainees," the cable said, about twice as many as the army had acknowledged. Concerned that the United States should not offend the Pakistani Army, the cable stressed that any talk of the killings must be kept out of the press.
"Post advises that we avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy," the ambassador wrote. This September, however, the issue exploded into public view when a video emerged showing Pakistani soldiers executing six unarmed young men in civilian clothes. In October, the Obama administration suspended financing to half a dozen Pakistani Army units believed to have killed civilians or unarmed prisoners.
The cables verge on gossipy, as diplomats strained to understand the personalities behind the fractious Pakistani government, and particularly two men: General Kayani and President Zardari.
Often, the United States finds that Mr. Zardari, the accidental leader after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, is sympathetic to American goals - stiff sanctions on terrorist financing, the closing down of terrorist training camps - but lacks the power to fulfill his promises against resistance from the military and intelligence agencies.
Mr. Zardari's chief antagonist, General Kayani, emerges as a stubborn guarantor of what he sees as Pakistan's national interest, an army chief who meddles in civilian politics but stops short of overturning the elected order.
Early in the Obama administration, General Kayani made clear a condition for improved relations. As the director general of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, from 2004 to 2007, he did not want a "reckoning with the past," said a cable in 2009 introducing him to the new administration. "Kayani will want to hear that the United States has turned the page on past ISI operations," it said. General Kayani was probably referring to the peace accords with the Taliban from 2004 to 2007 that resulted in the strengthening of the militants.
If the general seems confidently in charge, the cables portray Mr. Zardari as a man not fully aware of his weakness. At one point he said he would not object if Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered in Pakistan as the father of its nuclear weapons program, were interviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency but tacitly acknowledged that he was powerless to make that happen. Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on ultimately unproved corruption charges, feared for his position and possibly - the wording is ambiguous - his life: the cables reveal that Vice President Biden told Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain in March 2009 that Mr. Zardari had told him that the "ISI director and Kayani will take me out." His suspicions were not groundless. In March 2009, a period of political turmoil, General Kayani told the ambassador that he "might, however reluctantly," pressure Mr. Zardari to resign and, the cable added, presumably leave Pakistan. He mentioned the leader of a third political party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, as a possible replacement.