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What Wikileaks Tells Us About How Washington Runs Pakistan

| Thu Dec. 9, 2010 5:10 PM EST

The Pakistani political establishment has always believed that the West is best. It has, after all, been the ultimate source of their power and so, on December 3rd, Prime Minister Gilani called a meeting of the Joint Chiefs, the Defense Minister, and various cabinet ministers, including the Finance Minister, to discuss the Wikileaks scandal and strategies for dealing with any potential embarrassments in yet-to-be-released cables. (Lie, undoubtedly. It worked so well before.)

Tariq Ali, the Pakistani writer and historian, reacted to the Wikileaks revelations swiftly and with a frustration and anger felt by many Pakistanis. "The Wikileaks," he wrote, "confirm what we already know: Pakistan is a US satrapy. Its military and political leaders constitute a venal elite happy to kill and maim its own people at the behest of a foreign power. The US proconsul in Islamabad, Anne Patterson, emerges as a shrewd diplomat warning her country of the consequences if they carry on as before. Amusing, but hardly a surprise, is that Zardari reassures the US that if he were assassinated, his sister would replace him and all would continue as before. Always nice to know that the country is regarded by its ruler as a personal fiefdom."

Still, that elite carries on with little sense of the grim absurdity of recent events. As the Wikileaks documents pour out, various members of parliament are queuing up to have their names put forward as possible replacements for the prime minister. Since the only person capable of replacing the president is his sister, there's no need for debate there.

Like many military chiefs in the past, General Kayani is putting forward his own set of favored names, overstepping the official limits of his office with impunity, while the unelected dark overlord of the government, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, has been offering himself for another unelected posting.

Malik came to public notoriety as Benazir Bhutto's security adviser—until her assassination. The job of policing the nation was always a peculiar reward to offer a man who couldn't keep his one charge safe. Malik, for whom President Zardari issued a presidential pardon and who had all corruption charges against him dropped under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (an odious law pardoning 20 years worth of graft carried out by politicians, bankers and bureaucrats) was also given a senate seat by his friend the president.

Zardari, it is worth noting, did not stand for elections either, has no constituency, and was made president in the very same manner as Pakistan's previous ruler General Pervez Musharraf: he was selected by his own parliament.

What will Pakistan's elite learn from Wikileaks? Undoubtedly nothing. And if we're going by the White House's response so far, nor will Washington feel more constrained than it ever has when it comes to choosing its allies and running the South Asian arm of its informal global empire.

The Zardari government makes no secret of its gratitude for American support. They have, after all, watched as a foreign power bombs its land, illegally detains or renders its citizens, and turns a blind eye to Pakistan's flagrant censorship and abuse of human rights.

This obeisance to power is the key to Zardari's American engagement. And so it will remain. While we wait for Wikileaks to reveal the rest of the cables, which are unlikely to have any bearing on Washington's future dealings with the corrupt governments of Zardari in Pakistan or President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan (or anywhere else for that matter), we watch as American officials argue for expanding their drone attacks southwards into the natural-gas-rich province of Balochistan. That it shares a border with Iran hardly seems a coincidence.

The Zardari regime's essential acquiescence has recently been acknowledged via a multi-year "no strings attached" offer of a military aid package by Washington. At the height of the devastation wreaked by the summer floods, the Health Secretary of Balochistan and the Deputy Chairman of the Pakistani Senate both alleged that aid could not be airlifted out of an air base in the city of Jacobabad on the border between Sindh and Balochistan, two flood ravaged provinces, because it was being used by the Americans for their drone strikes in Pakistan. The American embassy issued a swift and suitably hurt-sounding denial, but the damage was done—and the message was clear: the war against Pakistan continues unabated, with its own government at the helm.

Fatima Bhutto, an Afghan-born Pakistani poet and writer, is most recently the author of Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir (Nation Books, 2010). Her work has appeared in the New Statesman, the Daily Beast, and the Guardian, among other places. Her father, Murtaza Bhutto, son of Pakistan's former President and Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and an elected member of parliament, was killed by the police in 1996 in Karachi during the premiership of his sister, Benazir Bhutto. Fatima lives and writes in Karachi, Pakistan. To listen to a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview in which Fatima Bhutto discusses the unequal US-Pakistani relationship, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

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