ISLAMABAD, Dec 2: Shaken by what can be described as “Cablegate”, the government on Thursday convened a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) to deliberate on the crisis.
The meeting of the DCC, the highest defence policy-making body after the federal cabinet, will be held on Friday under Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
It will be attended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three services chiefs, the ministers of foreign affairs and defence and a couple of other ministers.
The WikiLeaks expose has not been cited as an item on the agenda and officially it is meant to discuss Prime Minister Gilani’s forthcoming visit to Kabul and nuclear and other related issues, but sources insist that the meeting has been convened mainly because of the storm kicked up by the leaked diplomatic communiqués and the need to evolve a joint civil-military strategy.
Although the drama is yet to unfold completely, the cables released so far have highlighted rapidly deteriorating civil-military relations, growing clout of American embassy in domestic politics and world’s concerns over the security of Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
One of the dilemmas before the DCC as it tries to work out a damage-control plan is that no-one would be sure what more revelations are expected.
But President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani appear confident that nothing more toxic is likely to come down the pike.
The prime minister has said his government is trying to prevent the (WikiLeaks) mischief from hurting core national interests.
According to sources, the prime minister and CJCSC Gen Khalid Shamim Wyne discussed the implications of the disclosures on Thursday.
The DCC is likely to reiterate that fears expressed in leaked cables about the likelihood of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists are unfounded and baseless; and that the leadership remains fully committed to maintaining the fool-proof security of the arsenal. Little debate is likely on the issue of nuclear security because of a national consensus on the matter.
But, the sources said, intense discussions were expected on depiction of civil-military relations in the classified cables leaked by the whistleblower website. The civil-military equation is critical to national politics and the picture that emerges from the disclosures is that the relationship was at its lowest ebb.
While President Zardari complained to US Vice-President Joe Biden and the then British prime minister Gordon Brown that his army chief could ‘take him out’, Gen Kayani, ahead of the March 2009 long march, disclosed to then American ambassador Anne W. Patterson that he contemplated seeking the president’s resignation and installing ANP leader Asfandyar Wali in his place.
Separately, President Zardari had told the then British foreign secretary David Miliband that his men (army officers and ISI) were keeping him unaware about critical information.
On the other and, Gen Kayani and ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha could be found telling the American envoy that there were concerns in the military about corruption and mis-governance by the president, whom the two also accused of holding over back-channel talks with India and start of military action in Waziristan.
It is definitely worrisome that military and civilian leaders criticised each other in meetings with foreign diplomats, but more serious was the doubt expressed in another cable that both sides (the presidency and the military commanders) did not directly discuss their mistrust.
Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit has refused to comment on the leaks.
But, on Thursday afternoon there was clearly a disquiet in the Foreign Office corridors and whispers could be heard that the embarrassed leaders deserved it because they repeatedly threw to the wind their cautions against giving too much leeway to foreign diplomats, providing critical information and casually sharing their views with them.“The leaders, both civilian and military, made a mockery of themselves by engaging extensively with the American, British and other western diplomats. They exploited proclivity of our leaders to meet them,” a senior diplomat said.
The standing advice of the Foreign Office for all functionaries is that their interactions with foreign diplomats should be routed through it (the FO), which should also be consulted on the possible topics for discussions.
A source disclosed that the Foreign Office was being bypassed to the extent that no leader meeting foreign diplomats ever bothered, even after the meetings, to tell the department what had been discussed. “Resultantly the foreign diplomats and visiting dignitaries came to the Foreign Office only as a ritual, while substantive issues were discussed elsewhere.”
US Ambassador Cameron Munter, in his public utterances, criticised the leaks as malicious and expressed hope that they wouldn’t affect bilateral ties.
But in private conversations American diplomats defended their intense engagement with Pakistani leaders, saying it was routine diplomatic business, which they carried out openly and transparently.
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