Wikileaks US diplomatic cables: Key Pakistan issues

US special forces soldier Islamabad has consistently denied that it has allowed US special forces permission to operate within Pakistan

The controversial whistle-blowing site Wikileaks has released numerous documents which relate to Pakistan among the cache of thousands of secret messages sent by US diplomatic staff.

While the main concern among US and UK diplomats is that Pakistan's nuclear material could fall into the hands of terrorists, a wide range of other sensitive issues also come under analysis.

Below are some of the key issues relating to Pakistan.

US special forces operating in Pakistan

The leaked correspondence says that small teams of US special forces have been operating secretly inside Pakistan's tribal areas, with Pakistani government approval. It says that in October 2009 the Pakistani military covertly allowed a handful of US special operations soldiers to deploy with Pakistani troops in North and South Waziristan. Although they were forbidden to conduct combat missions they were there to provide "intelligence, surveillance and recon support" co-ordinating drone strikes and helping the military hunt down militants. BBC correspondents say that similar reports have been around before but Pakistan has consistently denied there are any US "boots on the ground".

'Informal coup'

In early 2009 General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army, discussed with the Americans the possibility of "persuading" President Asif Ali Zardari to resign - replacing him with Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan. Gen Kayani said that he would keep Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in place.

Pakistani army's 'support for militant groups'

The former US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, warned that no amount of US aid would change the Pakistan army's covert support for four major militant groups:

  • The Afghan Taliban
  • The Haqqani network, a Taliban group based in Pakistan but mostly believed to operate in Afghanistan
  • The Afghan militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
  • The Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, accused by India of carrying out the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai (Bombay)

The documents state that "extremism is no longer restricted to the border area" and that fighters were increasingly being recruited from Punjab province, where "poverty, illiteracy and despair create a breeding ground for extremism".

They state that "the phenomenon is spreading into northern Sindh as well".

'Extra-judicial killings'

The US believed that Pakistani troops were responsible for a series of extra-judicial killings in the Swat Valley and adjoining tribal belt, but decided not to comment publicly on the issue. However, the US subsequently cut funding to some army units.

President Zardari 'prepared for assassination'

The president told Ms Patterson he had made provision in case of his assassination, saying his sister, Faryal Talpur, would be named president. He also said he had requested that the United Arab Emirates government take in his family in event of his death. Mr Zardari's murdered wife - former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - lived in self-imposed exile in the UAE for years before her ill-fated return to Pakistan in 2007. Mr Zardari is also quoted as saying that he feared a fresh army coup. He was reported in 2009 to have told British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he feared Gen Kayani might "take me out".

Drone strikes

Pakistan's army and other arms of the government "quietly acquiesced" with drone strikes in the north of the country, the documents state, while condemning them in public as a breach of sovereignty. In August 2008 PM Gilani is reported to have said: "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it." The documents also say that Pakistani civil servants view drones as a solution to the Taliban's grip over the tribal belt - which numerous army operations had failed to loosen. The website quotes a senior official as saying that most local people did not fear the strikes because "everyone knew that they only hit the house or location of very bad people".

Misuse of aid

US diplomats allege in the leaked documents that hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid earmarked for fighting militants has been diverted to government coffers. The cable acknowledges that the US and Pakistan is in a "co-dependent relationship".

American views on President Zardari

While far from perfect, the documents state, President Zardari is "pro-American and anti-extremist; we believe he is our best ally in the government". They add that it is clear that "Zardari runs the show, and [PM] Gilani "has at times chafed at public acknowledgment of this fact". However, "reports of Zardari-Gilani tensions are exaggerated; Gilani knows his place and will tow Zardari's line".

Failed state?

"Although we do not believe Pakistan is a failed state", the documents state, "we nonetheless recognize that the challenges it confronts are dire... The government is losing more and more territory every day to foreign and domestic militant groups; deteriorating law and order in turn is undermining economic recovery. The bureaucracy is settling into third-world mediocrity, as demonstrated by some corruption and a limited capacity to implement or articulate policy."

Internally displaced people

In 2008 the US military asked US embassies in Kabul and Islamabad to provide information on camps housing Afghan refugees or civilians displaced by fighting with the Taliban. They wanted camp names, locations, status, the number of displaced and an ethnic breakdown. The reasons why this information was required are unknown.

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