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What friends say about Pakistan in private

May 27, 2011

Jean David Levitte
One of the cables said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Diplomatic Adviser, Jean-David Levitte, asserted that “the Pakistani army is well regarded by the Pakistani people when not in power, but that it fails when in power.” He was also “more pessimistic” than the US about Pakistan, noting that the country has “chosen Islamicisation for generation after generation” leading to a now “transformed society.” - Photo by Reuters (Thumbnail illustration by Hasaan Haider/Dawn.com)

KARACHI: Pakistan remains “an army in search of a country,” according to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Diplomatic Adviser. The condescending characterisation, made to former US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and US Ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, is contained in a previously unpublished secret US diplomatic cable dated September 3, 2009 accessed by Dawn through WikiLeaks.

The French adviser, Jean-David Levitte, described as “a National Security Adviser equivalent and Holbrooke’s former counterpart at the UN”, is considered by the US Embassy in Paris to be “one of the most important and influential voices within the GOF [Government of France] on national security policy.”

While most of the secret American diplomatic cables obviously focus on American perceptions of Pakistan, some of the documents also reveal telling bits of information about how representatives of other friendly states, particularly other allies of the US government and Pakistan, view this country.

In the meeting with Holbrooke and Rivkin, which took place on August 31, 2009, Levitte also asserted that “the Pakistani army is well regarded by the Pakistani people when not in power, but that it fails when in power.” He was also “more pessimistic” than the US about Pakistan, noting that the country has “chosen Islamicisation for generation after generation” leading to a now “transformed society.”

In another cable dated January 22, 2010, Jasmine Zernini, head of the French government’s interagency Afghanistan-Pakistan cell, told American officials that although General Kayani had “learned the lesson of Musharraf” and was staying behind the scenes, she felt he was (according to the cable) “manipulating the government and parliament, including to prevent change on Pakistan’s policy towards…FATA along the Afghan border, and also to stir up controversy regarding the Kerry-Lugar bill.”

In another cable (dated September 22, 2009) detailing meetings between officials from the American and British governments, Jon Day, the Director General for Security Policy in the Ministry of Defence, noted that “recent intelligence” indicated that Pakistan was “not going in a good direction.” He also asked visiting US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher, “if the US would be ‘obliged’ to cut relations with Pakistan if the military took over again.” Day also inquired about US perspective on Nawaz Sharif “whom he described as ‘potentially less venal’ than other Pakistani leaders.” Previously published cables have already revealed what opinion Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz held of President Zardari and Mr. Sharif.

In the same cable, Mariot Leslie, the Director General, Defence and Intelligence of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government expresses satisfaction that China had “dumped” Pakistan in the Conference on Disarmament which in her opinion was a “good sign.”

The dismissive attitude towards Pakistan is, however, not limited to Western governments. In a cable dated December 21, 2009, Egyptian Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi told US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair that Egypt encountered the same suspicions from Pakistan as the US did. Pakistanis, he said, “don’t trust Egyptians either.” He went on to say that “while the Pakistanis were ‘difficult’… Egypt was still trying to ‘work with them.’” According to the cable, Mr Tantawi, who has previously served as the Egyptian Defence Attache to Pakistan, also pointedly noted that “any country where the military became engaged in ‘internal affairs’ was ‘doomed to have lots of problems.’”

The assessment by other friendly states of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan is also indicative of the perceptions — whether grounded in reality or not — that Pakistan must contend with. In a secret cable dated January 23, 2010, a senior Saudi intelligence official is quoted as telling a US official that “the SAG [Saudi Arabian government] viewed the Afghan Taliban as largely under the control of Pakistan” and that “the Afghan Taliban needed support to be able to become more independent of Pakistan.”

General Masudi, the head of internal affairs for the General Intelligence Presidency of Saudi Arabia told Barnett R. Rubin, the Special Adviser to Holbrooke that “outside powers, like Iran and Pakistan, had influenced the uneducated Afghans to believe that the US and the SAG were working against the Afghan people,” adding that “We have to convey the truth to this group.”

Gen Masudi also pointed out that the Saudi government was holding a number of Afghans in prison on charges of fundraising for the Taliban and speculated that “perhaps these prisoners could be used as bargaining chips in political talks.”

Gen Masudi while being sympathetic to Pakistan’s concerns regarding Afghanistan also cautioned that it was important to “reassure Pakistan that any activities conducted wouldn’t harm its interests, otherwise there might be a backlash.” He also explained Pakistan’s unease over developments in Afghanistan by saying that “the Pakistanis felt that they deserved to have a big part in Afghanistan,” according to the cable. “They wanted to be ‘the closest friend’ and were offended when they thought Iran or India were taking this role.”

The concern over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is, of course, a recurrent theme in many countries’ representatives conversations with US diplomats. According to the cable referenced earlier, for example, Mr Levitte, the French adviser to President Sarkozy, told the Americans that the French government was “not sure that the Pakistani nuclear deterrent is secure,” especially “with the frequent movement of nuclear weapons by the Pakistani military.” The French, he said, would provide technical assistance to Pakistan on issues of nuclear safety but “he firmly stated that the GOF would not supply nuclear energy technology.”

Cables referenced: WikiLeaks #223496, 245077, 217654, 226331, 245018, 240923