Pakistan's military officers, seen through American eyes

The cable shows that anti-American biases run deep in the military, despite the lavish bankrolling by the U.S.

May 25, 2011 05:05 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The 9/11 attack was a Jewish conspiracy, the CIA runs the American media, MI-5 runs the BBC: commonplace conspiracy theories on the Internet and, as a U.S. military officer found out while he attended a course at one of Pakistan's premier military education institutes, common too among senior officers of the Pakistan military.

As the United States tries to “reset” its relationship with Pakistan and especially the country's powerful military, a May 12, 2008 U.S. Embassy cable from Islamabad about Colonel Michael Schleicher's experiences at the National Defence University ( > 153436: confidential ) shows that it is going to be a mostly uphill task.

The cable, a report of Colonel Schleicher's “perceptions of the course, his classmates and his instructors” as told to the Embassy's Political Officer, is a primer on the different universes that the U.S. and Pakistan inhabit; it shows that anti-American biases run deep in the military, despite the lavish bankrolling by the U.S.

Sent under the signature of U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, the cable concludes that the best way to correct this is to increase opportunities for Pakistani military officers to train in the U.S, and to “consider an exchange program of instructors to broaden understanding of the U.S.”

Located in Islamabad, the National Defence University's stated mission is “to impart higher education policy and strategy formulation at various tiers with emphasis on national security and defence, and act as a national think tank.” Among its students are high-calibre military officers.

Col. Schleicher attended the NDU senior course, for students at the colonel and brigadier ranks; the junior course draws officers of the lieutenant colonel and colonel ranks.

The American officer inferred — on the basis of his professional and personal interactions — that at least two-thirds of his Pakistani batch-mates were either “religiously devout” or “moderately religious.”

According to him, less than a third of his class was “overtly secular,” and only two openly drank alcohol. Consumption of liquor by Muslims is prohibited in Pakistan.

In her comment on the contents of the cable, the Ambassador noted that with Washington's support, Post was working to dramatically increase International Military Education and Training (IMET) opportunities for officers and NCOs.

Exchange programme

The cable quoted her as saying:

“We need, in particular, to target the ‘lost generation' of Pakistan military who missed IMET opportunities during the sanctions years. The elite of this crop of colonels and brigadiers are receiving biased NDU training with no chance to hear alternative views of the US.

“Given the bias of the instructors, we also believe it would be beneficial to initiate an exchange program for instructors.”

The cable did not elaborate on what basis the U.S. officer had assessed the religious bent of mind of his Pakistani counterparts. It merely said: “Col. Schleicher believed the secular students felt peer pressure to appear more religious than they actually were.”

The mission statement of the NDU says its aim is to impact higher education in policy and strategic affairs at various tiers on national security and defence and act as a national think tank. Headed by a three-star General, the University offers two courses.

In the year the U.S. officer attended it, the senior course included 135 classmates. Of these, approximately 25 were military officers from Pakistan's allies (including the U.S., Britain, and China).

The curriculum included lessons on classic nation-state development, which includes the use of Islamic texts, Pakistan's foundational documents — such as the works of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that discuss why Pakistan was created and how its legacy should impact its future policies.

There were two women in the course, including one from the faculty. During all trips and visits, the separation of men and women was strictly observed.


The American officer was of the view that his Pakistani batchmates had several “misconceptions” about the U.S. In contrast, they approved everything Chinese.

The cable said that even the course instructors often had misperceptions about U.S. policies and culture, and infused their lectures with these suspicions.

“For example, one guest lecturer — who is a Pakistani one-star general — claimed the U.S. National Security Agency actively trains correspondents for media organisations. Some students share these misconceptions despite having children who attended universities in the US or London.”

The cable said that some of those who were doing the course did not believe that the U.S. deployed women pilots overseas. A few of them believed that the Central Intelligence Agency was in charge of the U.S. media (and that the British intelligence agency MI-5 was in charge of the British Broadcasting Corporation).

“Students in the Junior Course shared many of the biases prevalent in the Muslim world, including a belief the US invaded Iraq for its oil and that 9/11 was a staged ‘Jewish conspiracy'.”

The Pakistani students appeared to come from wealthy families or from military families and were proud of the fact that they received amenities, including private-quality schools and good health care, as an incentive to stay in the military.

“Officers at the brigadier rank touted their privileges, including a house, car, and a driver. The NDU students also obtained financial perks, such as a free trip for a pilgrimage that could be taken at the end of the class.”

The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan.

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