Pakistan’s president feared military might ‘take me out’

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WASHINGTON - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told US Vice President Joe Biden that he was worried the powerful military in his country might “take me out”, according to US diplomatic cables published in The New York Times Tuesday.

Zardari’s comments made to Biden in January 2009 reflect the influential role the Pakistani military holds in a country with a long history of coup d’etats, and further raises questions about the effectiveness of civilian rule. It was unclear whether Zardari’s comments suggested he could be killed or merely forced out of office.

The US cables from the embassy in Islamabad were part of a massive cache of internal American diplomatic correspondence acquired by WikiLeaks and distributed to a handful of news organisations, including The Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel and newspapers in France and Spain.

More than 250,000 documents were being released this week despite the strong objections of the US government, which considers them stolen and says their public release undermines international diplomacy.

The cables underscore the difficult relationship between the US and Pakistan and US scepticism about whether Islamabad is fully committed to defeating Islamic extremism despite billions of of dollars in annual military and civilian aid.

The cables reveal the tricky dilemma faced by the US in trying to support a civilian-led government unpopular among Pakistanis and in constant tension with a military and intelligence service less sympathetic to US objectives in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been reluctant to completely sever ties to the Taliban because it wants to maintain as much influence in Afghanistan to thwart any attempts by archrival India to intervene in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported. Pakistan views the militants as insurance for when the day comes that the US leaves Afghanistan, The Times reported.

Anne Patterson, a US ambassador in Pakistan for three years until her October departure, doubted whether the billions of dollars in US aid would persuade Pakistan to be more cooperative.

“There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India,” she said.

Patterson was most likely referring to the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group Pakistan financed in the 1990s to fight India in disputed Kashmir, and is accused of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Patterson also warned Washington that pursuing greater ties to India feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups.

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