Initiated readers often bemoan the lack of investigative journalism in Pakistan. The TV talk shows are horse and pony shows, they contend. The newspapers are either too sensational or too timid, they say. Nobody has the inside on what’s going on behind the Foreign Office or the GHQ; the Presidency, the PM House or the American Embassy, they argue.
Well, finally, the grumbletons can say goodbye to grumbling. Happy summer reading is on the horizon. Welcome to Pakistan, Julian Assange. You have arrived and wow! Wikifest is everywhere, thanks to Dawn publishing WikiLeaks Pakistan Papers.
When you have the guts to take on the world’s sole superpower by breaking into its heavily guarded cyberspace and stealing secrets not meant to be shared by the hoi polloi, you have to be kind of wacky. That’s how the New York Times editor Bill Keller portrays Julian Assange in his column. It is a longwinded tale of how Keller came across WikiLeaks and what were the reasons for him to agree to print the “vast secret archive with the more mundane feat of sorting, searching and understanding a mountain of data”.
Here’s Keller’s summary of his six month ‘cloak-and-dagger’ odyssey with Assange, whom he calls “elusive, manipulative and volatile (and ultimately openly hostile to the Times and Guardian)” asserting that Assange kept him and others “within the bounds of the law.” Keller goes on to describe how an array of government officials couldn’t decide whether they wanted to “engage us or arrest us.”
By the end of the year, he writes “the story of this wholesale security breach had outgrown the story of the actual contents of the secret documents and generated much breathless speculation that something — journalism, diplomacy, life as we know it — had profoundly changed forever.”
Imagine the editor of one of the world’s most influential newspapers being rocked by Assange who boasted that he had used the NY Times and other journals like puppets while he pulled their strings as a puppet master does, forcing them to work in concert and choreographing their work with all the other publications enjoying WikiLeaks.
Keller and Assange remain estranged. Keller quotes his deputy Eric Schmitt, the man first dispatched to London for a face-to-face with the computer hacker inside the office of Guardian : “‘[Assange] He’s tall — probably 6-foot-2 or 6-3 — and lanky, with pale skin, grey eyes and a shock of white hair that seizes your attention. He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-coloured sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days. Assange shrugged a huge backpack off his shoulders and pulled out a stockpile of laptops, cords, cell phones, thumb drives and memory sticks that held the WikiLeaks secrets.’”
Guess what the NY Times’ first scoop was from the WikiLeaks? You guessed it! It was Pakistan’s “duplicity” and “ambiguous role” in helping America’s war against terror. I read the story on the front page last July. “The Times gave prominence to the dispatches reflecting American suspicions that Pakistani intelligence was playing a double game in Afghanistan — nodding to American interests while abetting the Taliban. We buttressed the interesting anecdotal material of Pakistani double-dealing with additional reporting.”
Americans have always suspected Pakistan. But WikiLeaks revealed what many of us had always known. As for the latest triumph of transparency: Everyone who is anyone in Pakistan stands exposed in Pakistan Papers. Jolly good show, this newspaper has put up everything which is enough to indict those who swear they serve the nation. They are liars. Okay, next? Well, it would be very interesting to hear the inside of how the GHQ, the Presidency, the Sharif brothers and other minor players in the plot first reacted when informed that the newspaper was ready to explode with telling exposes on them. That we may never know. What we know is the feeble, weak and ill-defined explanations coming out from these quarters, signifying fluff and more fluff. It’s not easy to defend the indefensible.
The late Richard Holbrooke tried convincing Keller not to print the first of the WikiLeaks story on Pakistan last July because “… one of Holbrooke’s many gifts was his ability to make pretty good lemonade out of the bitterest lemons; he was already spinning the reports of Pakistani duplicity as leverage he could use to pull the Pakistanis back into closer alignment with American interests.” But Keller went ahead anyway and printed the story on July 25, 2010.
Finally, what will be the eventual fallout of Pakistan Papers among the establishment? If I were to hazard a guess: Nothing. Our rulers have grown second skins, nay third and fourth skins and have manufactured masks for different audiences. When they meet Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen as they did recently in Islamabad, they put on their ‘Made in USA’ mask. When they address natives, they put on the ‘Made in Pakistan’ mask and when they meet the foreign press, they don a ‘happy face’ demonstrating obsequious submission and, last, when they meet the Pakistani press, they put on the ‘Down with America’ face.
Once the excitement of WikiLeaks wears down in Pakistan, people will go on with their lives as has happened in America. I have not heard the US media or the man on the street recently mention Julian Assange or WikiLeaks. “We no longer get exercised over what this guy has done,” an American neighbour tells me when I ask about Assange. She’d rather talk about Sarah Palin and whether she will be the top Republican contender for the presidency of United States in 2012. Americans like to move on and focus on the news of the moment. They let the past take care of itself.
The last word for our rulers before I sign off: stop coddling the American ambassador in Islamabad with your kiss and tell stories. It just shows your perfidiousness to Pakistan.