Whistles are blowing again, causing storms in the teacups. It has happened before but this time it is a global leak, involving dozens of countries. These leaks can stir a number of public reactions but those in the know were already aware of these happenings. There has been a storm of refutations, condemnations, and explanations but it all looks like a damage control/face-saving exercise.
One also fails to understand how come the source of these hundreds of thousands of documents is but a 23-year old disgraced Private First Class? It gives credence to the myth that a junior-rank soldier can hijack the confidential database of the United States in its entirety without raising any red flags. People are seeing more than what meets the eye in this episode.
A significant part of the spilled beans are related to the AfPak region, with some new revelations. Let's decipher them, piece by piece, while focusing on their background.
Pakistan's Nuclear Program
One of the leaked documents talk about United States attempts to take control of nuclear fuel from a Pakistani reactor. There is talk about the efforts of former US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson to coax Pakistanis to allow that inspection and the latter's refusal. This information will cement the perceptions of a sizable number of Pakistanis who think that the US is after Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has accepted that there indeed was a pressure from the US to allow this exercise but they were quick to snub that request.
This memo can trigger an earthquake in the fragile Pakistani diplomacy where the government risks public wrath if it accepts any such proposals in future.
Saudi King's Dislike of Pakistani President
In another document, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia expresses his distrust of Pakistan's President Zardari saying, "When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body." A significant number of Pakistanis, who are growing wary of the ineffective government that is swarmed with charges of corruption, will like this comment. The president's office was quick to reject the report as baseless and going as far as saying that Zardari considers King Abdullah as his "elder brother."
But this royal utterance represents a deep mistrust of those who are currently in power. Saudi Arabia is the largest donor of Pakistan and has also played a significant, behind-the-veils role in Pakistani politics. It has grown distant in recent years, especially after the inauguration of the democratic government. The current government appears to be more Iran-centric to Saudis and this obviously does not sit well with them. This is also apparent from the reduction in Saudi aid to Pakistan though they later opened their coffers for the flood victims.
$52 Million Dollar Man and Ahmed Wali Karzai
An interesting revelation has been made about the former Afghan Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud, who was reportedly carrying $52 million in cash to the United Arab Emirates. The memo says that "he was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money's origin or destination". This revelation alone is enough to seriously undermine US claims of promoting transparency in Afghanistan.
Another cable discusses a meeting with Ahmed Wali Karzai, where they sought his help in bringing calm in the Kandahar region. The younger Karzai is a renowned drug dealer and has alleged ties with the CIA. This epiphany will create serious doubts about American strategy in Afghanistan, which has already come under fire in recent months.
Perhaps the most interesting snippet of information is related to a rickshaw driver of Lahore. This driver roams around the American consulate, keeping an eye on the comings and goings at the consulate instead of picking fares. Perhaps the Americans don't know that poor rickshaw drivers have been performing this duty for ages, and not just in Pakistan.
There will be plenty of diplomatic war of words in the coming days over these leaks. The revelations, however, have accomplished what they were intended to do. They have muddied public perceptions about the US and its love-hate relationship with its allies, who are also playing double games. It all boils down to a simple fact: global diplomacy is an utterly nasty game where no one is an angel.