Like countless others, I have been wondering about the impact of WikiLeaks on Pakistan and its citizens. Will it usher in any changes in our country or in our external relations with the US?
WikiLeaks, in many ways, resembles the phenomenon of the ubiquitous travellers of the past who kept Europeans informed about practices in foreign courts and countries but ended up portraying themselves in gladder colours than they actually were. The Travels of Marco Polo, written in the 13th century, was, for many Europeans, their first encounter with China and the Mongols. Normally, such travelogues portrayed Christianity and the European civilisation in glowing terms. These writings also built an appetite that justified political and economic expansion and were the harbinger of latter day imperialism.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, when Europeans dominated the globe, many western scholars viewed their travelling ancestors as advance agents of modernity. Eloquent testaments to this view are the hundreds of historical travel accounts published since 1850. These were effective tools for the promotion of political and economic expansion and, in many ways, resemble the thrust of the leaked documents before us. These travel accounts contributed to a vast literature that served to legitimise a colonial European presence in the larger world. The current spate of WikiLeaks speaks glowingly of how good and well meaning the intent of the West is, generally and of the US specifically, in dealing with the external world. It parallels the creation of the other in the age of US unilateralism and can be viewed as the justification for its actions globally. In that sense, it is a moral crusade par excellence by US diplomats.
For Pakistanis, the WikiLeaks are a damning condemnation of its civil, military and political elite. Although some suspicions of media commentators were confirmed, the leaks show how impossible it is for the Pakistani national security apparatus to shift its perspective. I was misled to believe that the military had turned its back against proxy warriors when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested. Little did I know that his arrest had nothing to do with counterterrorism but was executed to create bait to get Bramdagh Bugti’s custody from President Hamid Karzai, who had given him protection. If the disclosures in WikiLeaks showed Pakistani leadership in poor colour, it also did the same to the UK Labour and Conservative party leadership.
WikiLeaks told us that we have a president who feels insecure and threatened by his own army chief! The leader of the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, is called undependable. We learn that US special forces are already operating in Pakistan. However, two juicy comments wickedly honest were made by Hillary Clinton while reacting to the suggestion of former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, that the US should undertake coercive diplomacy against the Chinese. She reacted by asking how the US could act against its main banker. The second was a remark by the former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan who said that his country was not an observer but a participant in Pakistani affairs.
I think WikiLeaks tells the common man what the real issues are in their respective countries through the eyes of the only superpower; it also shows the true worth of our respective leaders; in that sense it is people-empowering and something positive. However, I do not think it will change the reality of the power that binds both Pakistan and the US in a symbiotic relationship. The truth is they can’t coexist without one another.