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How WikiLeaks Hurts U.S.-Pakistan Ties

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
December 6, 2010

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The release of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables (NYT) by WikiLeaks.org has further shaken Washington's already strained relations with Pakistan, a strategic ally central to any success in Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. The cables discuss U.S. concerns over Pakistan's continued support for certain militant groups, its nuclear program, the country's fragile civil-military relations, human rights abuses by Pakistan's security services, and more. Pakistani media has been covering the cable leaks extensively, and some stories have further fueled anti-U.S. sentiment (Reuters), with Pakistan's right-wing Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami staging a rally Dec. 5 to protest Pakistan's alliance (AFP) with the United States.

Both U.S. and Pakistani officials have rushed to minimize damage over the leaks. A spokesperson for Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Zardari had agreed not to let (CNN) the cable leaks "cast a shadow on the strategic partnership" between their countries. But as the cables highlight, the U.S.-Pakistan relations is fraught with lack of trust and shared goals. "That should raise fresh doubts (Newsweek) about the prospects for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan provides sanctuary for the Taliban and other groups hostile to our purposes," writes CFR President Richard N. Haass, adding: "Little in these cables suggest this support will end any time soon."

Analysts fear the cable leaks have also made more difficult information gathering by U.S. officials and diplomats on the ground, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, in an op-ed in the Pakistani newspaper The News, attempted to assuage concerns by saying Washington was taking steps to prevent any future breach of diplomatic communications. A bigger fallout from the WikiLeaks, says CFR's Pakistan expert Daniel Markey, is that it "may have permanently killed small U.S. nonproliferation and counterterror programs" in Pakistan "by unveiling U.S. efforts to reclaim enriched uranium from an aging Pakistani research reactor and by offering details on how U.S. Special Forces have been embedded in Pakistan's own military operations."

The cables also might jeopardize recent progress made in U.S.-Pakistan military cooperation. Last month, the Pentagon in its report to Congress (PDF), unveiled its plan to build a new facility to house U.S. military officials in the Pakistani city of Quetta, in Balochistan. This is significant given U.S. fears that Quetta is the headquarters for the Afghan Taliban's top leadership and Washington's concerns over Pakistani army's unwillingness to break ties with the group. The Pentagon plan is already facing a backlash (ForeignPolicy) in Pakistan, and the cables may help strengthen the opposition to it.

Crisis Guide: Pakistan

Washington's biggest challenge is getting Pakistan's most powerful institution--the army--to revise its decades-old policy of supporting militant groups. Pakistan uses these groups as proxies against India and to project its influence in Afghanistan. In a September 2009 cable, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote that no amount of U.S. aid to Pakistan will get its security forces to sever links with the Taliban, absent a regional approach that reassures the Pakistanis that cooperating with Washington will help them realize their national security goals.† A recent CFR Task Force report argues U.S. investment in a long-term partnership with Pakistan is only sustainable if Pakistan takes action against all terrorist organizations based on its soil.

Additional Analysis:

Imtiaz Gul, head of Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies, lambasts what he calls Pakistan's two-faced U.S. policy (Express Tribune). He says Pakistan must make a clean break from all militant groups and instead of using the war against terrorism to extract aid from the United States, as well as focus on its internal political reform and the economy.

In ForeignPolicy.com, James Traub writes that the diplomatic cables reveal the United States has no good options when it comes to its policy on Pakistan.

Background:

The BBC looks at Pakistan's growing nuclear program and the security measures associated with it.

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