Pol­icy of de­nial

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Huma Yusuf

WHAT­EVER one thinks of Ju­lian As­sange, the prin­ci­ples be­hind his Wik­iLeaks web­site are among those that Pak­istani civil so­ci­ety has been ad­vo­cat­ing for: trans­parency, govern­ment ac­count­abil­ity, in­creased ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. How­ever, barely days af­ter Cable­gate, rather than ad­dress­ing rev­e­la­tions about Pak­istani gov­er­nance and for­eign re­la­tions, the es­tab­lish­ment is do­ing what it can to sup­press the im­pact of the leaks. It seems as if this diplo­matic fi­asco is fated to be yet an­other missed op­por­tu­nity for Pak­istan to eval­u­ate its lead­er­ship struc­ture, en­gage pro­duc­tively with its am­biva­lent al­lies and con­vey its le­git­i­mate na­tional in­ter­ests to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Al­though last week's leaks em­pha­sise the di­vi­sive­ness be­tween the govern­ment, army, op­po­si­tion and for­eign pow­ers, the re­ac­tion to Wik­iLeaks' rev­e­la­tions has been uni­form. The prime min­is­ter has dis­missed them as mis­chief, and the US am­bas­sador has de­scribed them as ma­li­cious. The De­fence Com­mit­tee of the Cabi­net ne­glected to men­tion the dis­clo­sures in its of­fi­cial press re­lease, stat­ing that it had 'more im­por­tant' things to dis­cuss, even though sources have con­firmed the mat­ter was ad­dressed on Fri­day.

Tak­ing it a step fur­ther, the de­fence min­is­ter has writ­ten off the leaks as an at­tempt to de­mor­alise the armed forces, while the Sindh home min­is­ter has de­nounced the web­site's rev­e­la­tions as lies. The La­hore High Court also re­ceived a pe­ti­tion seek­ing to ban the Wik­iLeaks web­site on the ba­sis that it is a con­spir­acy to cleave the Mus­lim world.

One would think that the Wik­iLeaks re­leases-which doc­u­ment the ex­tent of the civil-mil­i­tary power strug­gle, re­veal our politi­cians as mere pawns of for­eign gov­ern­ments, raise ques­tions about the se­cu­rity of our nu­clear pro­gramme, and much more - would prompt clarifications and apolo­gies from our lead­ers. But the of­fi­cial re­sponses thus far be­tray a wor­ry­ing in­stinct to re­ject and re­pu­di­ate that which is prob­lem­atic. Rather than shat­ter the sta­tus quo, the leaks have strength­ened it - concerned of­fi­cials are now scram­bling to deny rather than deal with the is­sues that have been thrown up by the dis­clo­sures, thereby ex­ac­er­bat­ing ex­ist­ing ten­sions.

Only Jus­tice Az­mat Saeed, the LHC judge who dis­missed the pe­ti­tion call­ing for the Wik­iLeaks web­site ban, seems to have got it right. He ar­gued that the web­site had to re­main ac­ces­si­ble to hon­our the pub­lic's right to in­for­ma­tion, adding that noth­ing is greater than the truth. He also as­tutely noted that lit­tle re­vealed about Pak­istan's mil­i­tary or pol­i­tics has not al­ready been broad­cast by the lo­cal me­dia.

In­deed, blog­ger Peter Beinart's point that the Wik­iLeaks of­fer "valu­able in­sights" only if "you've been liv­ing un­der a rock all cen­tury" is par­tic­u­larly ap­pli­ca­ble to Pak­istan. Our govern­ment was in on the drone attacks? US spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces have been on the ground, hunt­ing Al Qaeda mil­i­tants? None of this comes as a sur­prise. That, how­ever, is not the point.

The leaked US diplo­matic ca­bles have brought off-there­cord con­tent into pub­lic po­lit­i­cal dis­course. As such, they of­fer Pak­istan the op­por­tu­nity to res­cue for­eign re­la­tions from the realm of con­spir­acy the­ory, and bring in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions into ac­cor­dance with pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tions. In the con­text of strained US-Pak­istan re­la­tions, Wik­iLeaks could help jump­start a frank dis­cus­sion that aims to bal­ance Pak­istan's na­tional in­ter­ests with Amer­ica's se­cu­rity im­per­a­tives; the dis­clo­sures could form the ba­sis of plain-speak­ing en­gage­ment that both sides have been re­quest­ing since the start of the strate­gic di­a­logue.

Many dis­clo­sures sup­port the Pak­istani ar­gu­ment that its in­ter­ests are reg­u­larly over­rid­den by the US, which has the ten­dency to see it as noth­ing more than a gun for hire. For in­stance, ca­bles con­firm Afghan sup­port for Bra­hamdagh Bugti, re­veal that the US is not fully com­mit­ted to ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Afghan Tal­iban, and de­scribe Amer­ica's lack of con­fi­dence in the Afghan govern­ment. These leaks give im­pe­tus to Pak­istan's re­peated de­mands for a role in any Afghanistan so­lu­tion.

Sim­i­larly, the ca­bles show that Pak­istani para­noia about nu­clear arse­nal be­ing seized is not en­tirely un­founded, as sev­eral gov­ern­ments have expressed con­cerns about nu­clear ter­ror­ism re­sult­ing from a se­cu­rity lapse. PostWik­iLeaks, be­hind-the-scenes bick­er­ing about this is­sue can be aired at a mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rum where Pak­istan can de­bate safe­guards in line with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

The US, mean­while, can openly press Pak­istan on is­sues such as con­tin­ued es­tab­lish­ment ties to mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tions, the mis­al­lo­ca­tion of US fund­ing for the Pak­istan Army and Pak­istan's dis­pro­por­tion­ate con­cerns about the In­dian Army's Cold Start doc­trine (which the ca­bles de­scribe as a "mix­ture of myth and re­al­ity").

Such un­pop­u­lar mat­ters can only be tack­led if Pak­istan is of­fered con­ces­sions on is­sues that it sees are vi­tal to its na­tional in­ter­ests. Over­all, the facts that have been brought on to pub­lic record as a re­sult of the Wik­iLeaks pro­vide the ba­sis for com­pro­mises and ne­go­ti­a­tions - the stuff of pro­duc­tive diplo­macy, which goes be­yond ' trans­ac­tional' en­gage­ments - be­tween Pak­istan and the US.

More im­por­tantly, fact-based di­a­logue be­tween Pak­istan and the US, rather than the mus­ings of me­dia per­son­nel or mis­quotes of min­is­ters, can en­cour­age the Pak­istani pub­lic's par­tic­i­pa­tion in the for­eign pol­icy de­bate.

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