Leadership: The Truth Isn't Pretty

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March 1, 2011:  Wikileaks revelations concerning Pakistan have not been flattering. The diplomatic messages, meant to be kept secret, did not reveal much that was not already common knowledge, but did confirm a lot. For example, the current president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, has long been known to be very corrupt, even by Pakistani standards. As the husband of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he had some protection from prosecution, but still spent a lot of time in exile, and needed a pardon to return to become president. Diplomats also confirm in the Wikileaks messages that Zardari was considered dumb, and a choice for president mainly because of his late wife's reputation, and the fact that he was corrupt, not clever and could be manipulated. Despite that, some diplomats heard of a plot by the head of the army to stage another coup. Brighter, and more powerful, politicians, disrupted this. That did not bother the generals too much, as they were also very busy devising ways to steal the closely monitored (by the Americans) U.S. aid to Pakistan. This amounted to several billions of dollars a year, and even with all that scrutiny, 5-10 percent of it was being stolen.

The generals were reluctant to fight the Taliban, in the tribal territories, largely because of the expense. It's easier to plunder the military budget if the troops are spending most of their time at their home bases. But with the troops in the tribal territories, you have to constantly truck in fuel, food and other supplies. Lots of ammunition is used, and the generals are under pressure to replace it. Lots of troops are killed or wounded, and if you don't take care of the these injured soldiers, or their widows and orphans, bad publicity can result. In short, there's less money that can be diverted to foreign bank accounts when there's a lot of fighting going on.

Thus the Pakistani generals are always trying to negotiate peace deals with the Taliban, a strategy which has never worked in the last decade. But the generals have an economic incentive to not fight the Taliban. This will sometimes be arranged via bribes from the Taliban. Those kinds of payments will also get imprisoned Taliban leaders set free (quietly, of course), or by not turning terrorist leaders over to the Americans (who are very difficult to bribe). The diplomats constantly complained of the corruption throughout Pakistan, and the unwillingness of the wealthiest and most powerful Pakistanis to step up and take a stand against Islamic terrorism.

Diplomats are also frustrated with the constant anti-American (and anti-Western) tenor of the Pakistani media. Some of this negative press is bought by wealthy Pakistanis, the military, or even the Taliban (using a combination of cash and threats.) Meanwhile, the economic and government problems, caused mainly by rampant corruption, takes a back seat. Pakistan pretends to oppose the Islamic terrorism it supports, and encourage economic and government reform. But it does neither, and is offended if anyone points that out. The diplomatic messages had an air of despair about them, because efforts to fix Pakistan's flaws never seem to get very far.

 


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