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Wikileaks cables show India's faulty diplomacy

December 13, 2010 19:04 IST

The failure of our diplomatic offensive against Pakistan after the 26/11 attacks rests in part on our faulty tactics, says Satish Chandra.

The Wikileaks disclosures are a part of the classified US diplomatic traffic comprising, as is the norm, not only of reportage of discussions but also of analysis and recommendations.

Such communications are the warp and woof of diplomacy and some of them would inevitably shock as they are made up of confidential material and are not subject to the inhibitions imposed by open correspondence. The importance of the wealth of data thrown up in the Wikileaks lies in the extent to which it corroborates existing assessments or throws fresh light on issues.  

An examination of the Wikileaks cables pertaining to the US embassy in Islamabad indicates that many of their assessments about Pakistan were in conformity with conventional wisdom most notably that "it is the perception of India as the primary threat to the Pakistani state that colours its perceptions of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan's security needs", and that there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to terrorist groups. (September 2009).

Furthermore, the US embassy recognised in the context of the use of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba as a proxy force by Pakistan that Kayani "wants to avoid a reckoning with his past leadership of the Inter Services Intelligence." It also acknowledges that although Pakistan is not a failed state the "government is losing more and more territory every day to foreign and domestic militant groups; deteriorating law and order in turn is undermining economic recovery.

The bureaucracy is settling into third world mediocrity…" (February 2009).  In addition, it is compelled to concede that despite the huge amounts of assistance provided by the USA to Pakistan it "is viewed with some suspicion by Pakistan's peoples and its institutions." (June 2009).

Notwithstanding the foregoing and despite the steps taken by Pakistan to hamper the mission's functioning since the spring of 2009 such as delays in issuance and renewal of visas for embassy staff, denial of import permits for embassy vehicles, etc the US mission in Islamabad apparently made no recommendations suggesting a course correction in US policies designed to ensure that Pakistan dismantled the infrastructure of terror apart from leaning on India (February 2010).

For instance, in a cable of September 2009 it proposed that "We need to reassess Indian involvement in Afghanistan and our own policies towards India, including the growing military relationship through sizable conventional arms sales, as all of this feeds the Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about US intentions. Resolving the Kashmir dispute, which lies at the core of Pakistan's support for terrorist groups would dramatically improve the situation. Enhanced US efforts in this regard should be considered."

It may be mentioned at the outset that the underpinnings of this recommendation are in themselves intrinsically flawed as the Kashmir issue is not at the root of Pakistan's support for terrorist groups. Pakistan's cultivation of terrorist groups stems from their utility as a means to weaken, if not destroy, India and thus even if the Kashmir issue were resolved to Pakistan's satisfaction its support for terrorist groups would continue unabated.

However, even if the embassy's assessment on this score was correct, clearly its recommendation, which amounts to a tilt against India in order to mitigate Pakistan's paranoia, was not warranted either on the merits of the case or, more importantly, in the context of US national interests in the light of its longer term geopolitical objectives. This possibly explains as to why this recommendation did not inform US policy.

One wonders in the light of the foregoing as to whether more objective recommendations by the US embassy designed to coerce Pakistan rather than to pander to it may have better served the US? Perhaps this was too much to expect as the US Embassy appears to have suffered more from localitus than most others and ended up doing a better job of representing Pakistan than the US.

Thus one has the sorry spectacle of the embassy rather than justifying the conditionalities in the Kerry Lugar bill providing assurances that the waivers would be exercised (October 2009), urging that the US government avoid comment on the massive human rights violations being committed by the Pakistan Army in Malakand and FATA (September 2009), advising the UNHCR against efforts for securing refugee status for Brahmdagh Bugti as the DG, ISI was not in favour of this and wanted him back in Pakistan for trial (December 2009), and asking its government in January 2009 to prevail upon India not to share information about the Mumbai attacks with countries who had lost their nationals in them.

But if the US embassy in Islamabad has not come up smelling roses in the Wikileaks exposures neither has the Indian government and here one is not merely referring to the US rubbishing of the "Cold Start" doctrine. (Cable of February 2010 from US Embassy in New Delhi). Much more serious is the evidence indicating that we had even in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks made it apparent that we did not intend to take retaliatory punitive action against Pakistan.

This is borne out by reportage from the US Embassy in Delhi in December 2008 to the effect that Pranab Mukherji had told David Miliband that we had no interest in raising tensions with Pakistan and M K Narayanan had indicated to British diplomats that India was not blaming the Pakistan government as it understood that it had no control over the ISI and the army.

Equally unfortunate was our foreign secretary's upbeat reaction, as reported in a February 2009 cable of the US embassy in New Delhi, to the Pakistani response to India's dossier on Mumbai by stating that it was "remarkable that we have got this far" and thanking the US for its role in this regard. Adoption of such a laidback approach by our leadership explains in some measure as to why countries like the US or the UK did not further ratchet up pressure on Pakistan to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

Thus the failure of our diplomatic offensive against Pakistan on this score rests in part on our faulty tactics.

Satish Chandra