The Dawn Media Group in partnership with WikiLeaks has been releasing the “Pakistan Papers,” cables from the trove of more than 250,000 US State Embassy cables that WikiLeaks obtained which specifically deal with Pakistan. Thus far, some of the revelations include the following: Pakistan’s military asked for continued drone coverage, the US has had troops deployed on Pakistan soil, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been financing jihadist groups in Pakistan and the US did not provide Benazir Bhutto with proper security.
I managed to connect with Raza Rumi, a writer based in Lahore, Pakistan, who regularly writes for the Pakistani weekly The Friday Times, The News and Daily DAWN. He’s also worked in various organizations including multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and has some writing on Dawn’s website on the Pakistan Papers.
The interview was planned for Sunday at 3 pm New York Time/midnight Pakistan Time. We were going to do the interview over Skype.
Just after 3 pm, I reminded Rumi that the interview was to begin. He logged on fifteen to twenty minutes after the time we had arranged and messaged me: “Sorry I got distracted. Never a dull moment here.” At that exact moment, the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi was under attack from militants (an attack that Adnan Rehmat says highlights “the ability of al Qaeda to function effectively as an extremist, reactionary organisation post-bin Laden”). I mention this to highlight how gracious Rumi was to take time out from Pakistan to share with me, an American, his insights on what is going on in a country that some refer to as “a hard country.”
[The interview was recorded. To hear audio, click here. And, click play on the embedded player.]
I ask Rumi about the Pakistan military and what the Pakistan Papers release tells the Pakistani people and the world about how the Pakistan military has been deceiving its people.
…It’s not just the Pakistan military. I would say Pakistan’s civilian and military elites have never trusted their people and they have been posturing on the one hand on an anti-Americanism platform and on the other they have been negotiating and bargaining with the West and in particular the Americans. And so I think this is an absolute shame because the more you do such things in a country, which is armed with nuclear weapons and where you have very strong public opinion on the particular issue of the US, you’re playing with fire. It’s an irresponsible behavior by the elites.
I ask Rumi to address President Barack Obama’s assertion that the US has the authority and right to come into Pakistan and kill any “militants” or al Qaeda leaders the US deems dangerous and how that might further complicate relations.
Rumi mentions the Pakistan Parliament recently established a stated position in early May through a parliamentary resolution that says “Pakistan’s Parliament is seriously worried about the breach of sovereignty that the US operations such as the OBL operation caused.”
…Therefore this puts Pakistani state into a very tough position of selling their partnership with the US at home. I think President Obama’s statement has not really helped. But then we are also cognizant of the fact that Obama is also addressing his domestic political imperatives and he has to demonstrate to the American people that he is a tough president and that, because of Pakistan’s discovering – That OBL’s discovery mean’s the United States should be tough with Pakistan. So, there are all these complications that are taking place. I would say that this recent statement in this interview by Obama is not going to help the US-Pak relations. Maybe, he could have been a little more diplomatic.
It becomes clear that Rumi has a firm grasp of the political narratives playing out in not just Pakistan but also the United States.
Rumi addresses the revelation that US troops are present in Pakistan:
I think in terms of public opinion again that is going to be very adversely viewed by the Pakistanis because while our official position and our state’s official position has also been that we are not letting the US use our soil to station or maintain any military operations. That myth has also been busted…
…In Pakistan, there is a crisis of governance and it is not a new one. It has been there for ages, which is to say Pakistani state is not a democratically aligned or structured state. It is not transparent. It is not accountable to the people. So, it had failed to inform the public about the kind of compacts it was entering with the United States after war on terror, which means there are agreements on drone strikes. There are agreements on picking up high value al Qaeda targets. And, these are all reported alleged from the media reports we find out that there have been understandings to this effect.
So, the Pakistani state and the government should have taken the public into confidence. It has been ten years now. And they should have actually prepared the people of Pakistan to understand what this partnership entails. Because it is a joint problem and it is a joint issue now. It’s no longer the US’s war.
It’s also Pakistan’s war given that 35,000 Pakistanis have died in the recent years as victims of terrorism. So, obviously the Pakistani state has not been doing the job. And similarly, the US has not made enough efforts to engage with the Pakistani population, which has also been a failure.
There is a part two to this interview. What becomes evident is there are many countries that influence policy in Pakistan — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China, Afghanistan, India, Iran, and the United States.
The US presence doesn’t necessarily help keep Pakistan stable. However, Pakistan’s elites, military and civilian, need the US. So, the US remains and the elites propagate this charade of being upset with America to appease the Pakistani people (and also to keep terrorists from assassinating them for being “pro-West”).