ISLAMABAD – The U.S. stands little chance of convincing Pakistan to sever links with militants fighting in Afghanistan using its current strategy, Washington's envoy in Islamabad warned last fall in one of dozens of memos leaked Wednesday that expose America's troubled alliance with the nuclear-armed state.
The diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks also reveal U.S. concern that Islamist militants might get access to Pakistan's nuclear material and doubts over the ability of the country's weak government.
Former Ambassador Anne Patterson's comments about trying to get Pakistan to abandon the Afghan Taliban may be the most significant since U.S. officials have said ending support for the group, which has bases on Pakistan's territory close to Afghanistan, is key to success in Afghanistan.
Instead of lavishing the country with increased aid to win Pakistan's cooperation, the U.S. must focus on ways of reducing tension between Islamabad and its archenemy, India, that drives support for militants, said Patterson.
"There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India," said Patterson in a September 2009 memo.
Pakistan has historically used militants as proxies to counter Indian influence in both Afghanistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir. The two countries have fought three wars in the past 60 years, and Pakistan continues to view India as its main threat.
The U.S. must reassess policies toward India that have fueled this perceived threat and reinforced Pakistani support for militants, said Patterson. These include "sizable" conventional arms sales and encouragement of Indian involvement in Afghanistan. Increased U.S. effort to resolve the Kashmir dispute would also help, she said.
The Obama administration has shown little indication of heeding this advice, partly because of resistance from India, a growing economic giant that also has nuclear weapons. India has resisted international mediation over Kashmir.
Pakistan has denied supporting militants, and one of its top diplomats said Wednesday that the leaks would hurt ties between Islamabad and other nations.
"You have built them over the years and all of a sudden something gets out. It harms the relationship," Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's ambassador to Britain, told the BBC.
The current U.S. ambassador to Pakistan has already expressed regret over the leaks.
The dozens of classified U.S. diplomatic cables about Pakistan that WikiLeaks posted to its website Wednesday were a small subset of the more than 250,000 from missions around the world it plans to release over the coming months.
With Washington unable to get Pakistan to target Afghan Taliban militants, it has increasingly relied on covert drone strikes to take out fighters in the country's mountainous tribal region.
Faced with popular anger at the strikes, Pakistani officials often criticize the attacks publicly as a violation of the country's sovereignty. But Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is quoted in one of the memos as saying he doesn't object to them.
"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," Gilani is quoted as telling Patterson, the former ambassador, in August 2008.
The memos also document U.S. concern that Islamist militants could get their hands on Pakistani nuclear material to make an illicit weapon.
Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world, according a memo from December 2008.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to increase security at its nuclear facilities but has sometimes encountered difficulty. Pakistan agreed "in principle" in 2007 to an operation to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani nuclear reactor, but it was never carried out because of domestic opposition, Patterson said in a May 2009 cable.
Pakistan said Monday it refused the operation because its own nuclear security would prevent the material from getting into the wrong hands.
The leaked memos reveal serious concerns about the Pakistani government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. He has been hounded by the opposition, the media and the army, which remains the real power center in the country.
This February, Patterson wrote the civilian government "remains weak, ineffectual and corrupt. Domestic politics is dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari."
In March 2009, during a period of political turmoil, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told the ambassador that he "might, however reluctantly," pressure Zardari to resign.
The president was reportedly feeling the pressure. In 2009, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain that Zardari had told him the country's main spy chief and "Kayani will take me out."