ISLAMABAD:A top American official said just eleven weeks before former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s comeback to Pakistan who was sent into forced exile to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf that he “could return to lead a movement that is pro-Islam, anti-Musharraf and anti- US,” said a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The lengthy cable of September 8, 2007 sent by the US Embassy Kabul to Washington talked about various meetings of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher with top Afghan officials including Foreign Minister Spanta in Kabul. He discussed cross- border affairs with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and raised Pakistani concerns that the Afghan government is supporting anti-Pakistan Baloch rebels.
Spanta conceded that, “We know (Nawaz) Sharif is bad news. He is the author of Islamic radicalism in our region.” Boucher agreed that Sharif could return to lead a movement that is pro-Islam, anti-Musharraf and anti- US, the message said.
According to the leaked cable, Boucher clarified that Musharraf’s initial decision not to attend was not a snub to the jirga itself but a cautionary move by the Pakistani president, who feared the Supreme Court would rule to allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan.
Spanta indicated that while he had been skeptical about the jirga himself, he had considered it a major success in the end. He said that the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs was sending five newly appointed diplomats to Pakistan for training – a significant goodwill gesture following the jirga, as Afghanistan has refused educational assistance from Pakistan in the past. Spanta said Musharraf’s appearance at the end of the jirga was a real high point. Boucher emphasized that it was Karzai’s urging that changed Musharraf’s mind.
It was noted that Pakistan is concerned about Baloch rebels who are operating in and supported from Afghanistan, and Boucher stressed the importance of the Afghan government doing all it can to crack down on this. He pressed senior Afghan officials to ensure that Iran’s role in Afghanistan is limited to a constructive one.
Karzai seemed pleased when Boucher shared that the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan jirga had been portrayed favourably in the US media. Karzai commented that six months would be an ideal time-frame after which to host the next jirga in Pakistan.
Both agreed that the Afghan jirga was an important confidence-building measure, but Boucher expressed his hope that the next jirga in Pakistan might produce more concrete agreements. He raised the upcoming visit of Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte as an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of the jirga and ensure continued progress towards the next one.
Boucher raised the idea of having the Afghan and Pakistani National Security Advisors meet together with Negroponte during his visit to Jalalabad near the Afghan-Pakistani border and proposed that the three work together to identify specific issues where the greatest cooperation is needed (such as economic cooperation, intelligence-sharing and controlling illicit border traffic).
Boucher also pushed for a discussion of how to engage the tribes along the border, whose buy-in is essential to the staying power of any future jirga agreements. Karzai shared that there was a recent gathering of Pakistani tribal chiefs in Peshawar during which the chiefs expressed a desire for the same rights and freedoms as ordinary Pakistani citizens. However, he noted that these same tribes had recently refused to celebrate Pakistani Independence Day.
Karzai said the Pakistani government needed to pull tribal leaders into a system of formal representation, while Boucher noted that Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao did not think a political party system within the tribal areas would be feasible in the near term. Boucher shared his opinion that Pakistan is “making a real effort now by going after the hardest targets, including Pakistani and Arab insurgents,” which has already yielded results.
Input from Agencies