They read like the most extraordinary revelations. Citing the WikiLeaks cables, major Pakistani newspapers on Thursday morning carried stories that purported to detail eye-popping American assessments of India's military and civilian leaders.
According to the reports, U.S. diplomats described senior Indian generals as vain, egotistical and genocidal; they said India's government is secretly allied with Hindu fundamentalists; and they claimed Indian spies are covertly supporting Islamist militants in Pakistan's tribal belt and Balochistan.
“Enough evidence of Indian involvement in Waziristan, Balochistan,” read the front-page story in the News; an almost identical story appeared in the Urdu-language Jang, Pakistan's bestselling daily. If accurate, the disclosures would confirm the worst fears of Pakistani nationalist hawks and threaten relations between Washington and New Delhi. But they are not accurate.
An extensive search of the WikiLeaks database by the Guardian by date, name and keyword failed to locate any of the incendiary allegations. It suggests this is the first case of WikiLeaks being exploited for propaganda purposes.
The controversial claims, published in four Pakistani national papers, were credited to the Online Agency, an Islamabad-based news service that has frequently run pro-army stories in the past. No journalist is bylined.
Shaheen Sehbai, group editor at the News, described the story as “agencies' copy” and said he would investigate its origins. The incident fits in with the wider Pakistani reaction to WikiLeaks since the first cables emerged.
In the west, reports have focused on U.S. worries for the safety of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile, or the Army's support for Islamist militants such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the Mumbai attack. But Pakistan's media has given a wide berth to stories casting the military in a negative light, focusing instead on the foibles of the notoriously weak politicians.
Editors have pushed stories that focus on President Asif Ali Zardari's preoccupation with his death, Prime Minister Gilani's secret support for CIA drone strikes and tales of a bearded religious firebrand cosying up to the U.S. Ambassador. Among ordinary citizens, the coverage has hardened perceptions that the leaders are in thrall to American power. Pakistan has become “the world's biggest banana republic”, wrote retired diplomat Asif Ezdi last week.Military and political leaders, portrayed as dangerously divided in the cables, have banded together to downplay the assessment.Noting that the story was bylined to “agencies” — a term that in means both a news agency and a spy outfit — the blogger Cafe Pyala asked: “How stupid do the ‘Agencies' really think Pakistanis are?” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010