Did the Vatican have a better appreciation of the post-9/11 world than the United States? A cable sent by the U.S. Embassy in the Vatican to the State Department on November 2, 2001 cites the tiny state's Deputy Foreign Minister as saying he “dreaded global economic collapse should the [United States] military campaign extend to Iraq.” The cable (2134: confidential) records a meeting that took place less than eight weeks after the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre, but over 16 months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. had launched ‘Operation Enduring Freedom' in Afghanistan less than a month prior to the meeting but had not yet begun its war against Iraq.

Vatican officials also expressed the fear that “the Kashmir situation and Afghan military campaign could destabilise the GoP (the Government of Pakistan), with repercussions for Pakistan's sizeable Catholic minority.” In response, says the cable: “Lunstead conceded the problem was grave; certain terrorists in Kashmir had received training in Pakistan and in Al-Qaida camps.” The Secretary, he noted, “had condemned all terrorism.”

“General Musharaf,” he suggested, “now had a unique opportunity to curb extremist elements in his country.”

On Afghanistan

At the October 20 Vatican meeting, Jeffrey J. Lunstead, Washington's South Asia Bureau Coordinator for Afghanistan, briefed Vatican Foreign Ministry officials on “U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.” It was attended by U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson (who signs off on the cable), and Monsignor Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's “deputy foreign minister-equivalent.” Monsignor Migliore, says the cable, “spoke positively of the circumspection evident in the U.S. response, though he noted that the Holy See could never applaud warfare.” He even felt there were areas where the Holy See could play “a direct leadership role,” such as in “cultural affairs, specifically through inter-religious dialogue.”

However, Migliore “shared concerns that the military campaign was outstripping political strategies.” He stated that “a final political solution was imperative” and that “he dreaded global economic collapse should the military campaign extend to Iraq.” The Monsignor “worried further at the risk to Pakistan's stability and to its one million-strong Catholic population.”

“Lunstead, however, voiced confidence in General Musharaff, praising his swift repudiation of the Taliban, a turnaround that raises hopes Musharaff will now also face down radical Islam within Pakistan, thereby also bettering conditions for Pakistan's religious minorities.” The rest is history.

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