Vatican questioned Pakistan's loyalty to counter-terrorism efforts as U.S. sought to encourage trust in post-9/11 world

The tale of an increasingly strained relationship between the Vatican and Pakistan, with the former suspecting the latter of supporting radical Islamist terrorism, emerges from cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

Two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and South Asia Bureau Afghanistan Coordinator Jeffrey J. Lunstead met the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister-Equivalent, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and East Asia and Afghanistan Desk Officer Monsignor Luis Marrano De Montemayor, to discuss U.S. military actions in the Middle East, as well as Pakistan's role in counter-terrorism actions.

The Vatican's representatives appeared reluctant to trust Pakistan; Mr. Lunstead attempted to mollify their concerns.

Though “Lunstead conceded the problem was grave” and that “certain terrorists in Kashmir had received training in Pakistan and in Al-Qaida camps,” he made it clear that “the Secretary…had condemned all terrorism” (2134: confidential, dated November 2, 2001).

“General Musharraf,” Mr. Lunstead said, “had a unique opportunity to curb extremist elements in his country,” according to the cable.

However, Mr. Lunstead said, “while committed to [the American-led] coalition, Musharraf faces domestic pressure because Pakistanis oppose the air campaign,” which led the Pakistani General to call “for its early end.”

While “Migliore worried further at the risk to Pakistan's stability,” Mr. Lunstead “voiced confidence in General Musharraf, praising his swift repudiation of the Taliban, a turnaround that raises hopes Musharraf will now also face down radical Islam within Pakistan,” the cable says.

Over two weeks later, however, the Vatican remained unconvinced.

‘Unreliable player'

According to a cable dated November 19, 2001 and classified by Mr. Nicholson, Vatican representatives restated that the Holy See “judges Islamabad an unreliable coalition player and distrusts Musharraf” (2205: confidential).

“Montemayor made clear that there is no love lost between the Vatican and Musharraf.”

He recounted how “in a late October visit to Islamabad by Archbishop Paul Cordes, head of Cor Unum, the Vatican's umbrella aid arm, contact with Musharraf and the [Government of Pakistan] was kept to a minimum.”

Despite previous U.S. assurances that Pakistan could be trusted, Monsignor Montemayor stated that, as far as the Vatican was concerned, “Pakistan…remains a nation of grave concern.”

Monsignor Montemayor then went on to question Pakistan's loyalty to the anti-terrorism efforts, accusing Musharraf of being “unable or unwilling to challenge Islamic radicals,” in the cable.

“The Vatican strongly doubts reports of a sea change in Musharraf's politics,” according to the cable. “If Bin Laden finds refuge in Baluchistan,” said Monsignor Montemayor, “the U.S. would find Musharraf hard put to deliver on his pledges.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)