Cables Reveal U.S. Doubts About Pakistan
GUY RAZ, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Another day and another round of sensitive documents released by WikiLeaks. This time, secret cables written by American officials reveal a stark assessment of Pakistan's government, tensions with the U.S. and deep concerns about the security of its nuclear weapons program.
NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: The series of diplomatic cables takes what have long been rumors, fears, and speculation about Pakistan and turns them into reality. Many of the cables were written by Anne Patterson, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.
In a message marked secret last May, Patterson said she was worried about an aging stockpile of highly enriched uranium at a nuclear research reactor. The Pakistan government earlier agreed to allow the U.S. to remove the material but has since reneged on the deal because of domestic opposition.
Wajid Hassan, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.K., says there shouldn't be any serious concerns about the stockpile.
Mr. WAJID HASSAN (Pakistani Ambassador to the United Kingdom): We are an independent nation. We have got a control and command system in order, which protects our nuclear assets. Plus, the Americans do not have claim on that because Americans sold it, and we bought it, and we are the owners of it.
NORTHAM: But in another cable in February 2009, Patterson expressed concern that rogue elements of Pakistan's military or government could gradually smuggle enough material out of a nuclear site to eventually make a weapon.
Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, says he's not surprised Patterson was voicing concern in her cables.
Mr. BRUCE REIDEL (Senior Fellow, Saban Center, Brookings Institution): Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, and it probably has more terrorists per square mile than any other country in the world. You put those two together, and it's a very worrisome situation.
NORTHAM: The diplomatic cables by Patterson and others also question the stability of Pakistan's government. Some describe the government of President Asif Ali Zardari as weak, ineffectual and corrupt. One cable relays Zardari's concern that he could be taken out by military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
Riedel says many senior Pakistani officials are conspiratorial-minded and believe there is a smear campaign under way by the U.S. Riedel says WikiLeaks' decision to release the diplomatic cables doesn't help.
Mr. REIDEL: Pakistanis have long felt that America is an unreliable ally. Now they will feel America is not only unreliable, but it can't keep a secret. And I think that will make what is already a very tortured and difficult relationship even harder.
NORTHAM: Especially when it comes to cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and other Islamist insurgents, says Daniel Markey, a South Asian specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The diplomatic cables confirm that the Pakistani government approved U.S. drone attacks on suspected militants in the country's tribal belt, something it had always denied, and that it allowed a team of U.S. Special Operations commandos to operate with Pakistani troops.
Markey says both issues are sensitive, and their exposure by WikiLeaks makes it a lot harder for the U.S. to carry out the programs.
Mr. DANIEL MARKEY (South Asian Specialist, Council on Foreign Relations): My sense is that things like this lead the Pakistani military to quickly shut down programs, to back away from cooperative ventures, at least for a period of time.
NORTHAM: But Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani analyst with the Atlantic Council, says there is an upside to the leaked cables: They show the complexity of Pakistan's problems and the efforts to resolve them.
Mr. SHUJA NAWAZ (Pakistani Analyst, Atlantic Council): A lot of things that needed to get out in the open are now out in the open, and the fact that they have been collaborating in the fight against the insurgents and militancy is probably a good thing.
NORTHAM: But the diplomatic cables also show the two are not always working in tandem. And in a September 2009 cable, Ambassador Patterson wrote that increasing financial or military aid won't guarantee Pakistan will stop backing the Taliban.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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