I do not mind paying the price for high-value targets, Zardari told U.S. Commander in 2008

The Pakistan President wanted regional ownership of extremism problem; thought Indian Prime Minister not well-informed of Indian intelligence activities in Afghanistan

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:15 am IST

Published - May 03, 2011 09:07 pm IST - CHENNAI

Although he was conscious of the possible negative reactions in Pakistan to unilateral military actions of the United States, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told United States Central Command Commander General David H. Petraeus that he did not mind paying the price for high-value targets.

During a meeting on November 3, 2008, Mr. Zardari said Pakistan's security forces were fighting, and he was “working to build popular support for Pakistan's war.” A U.S. Embassy cable dated November 15, 2008 ( > 178493: confidential ), reporting on the meeting, said Mr. Zardari suggested that the U.S. work collectively with the Pakistani Army to be more interactive and coordinate operations across the Afghan border. “Petraeus noted that he had ‘received the same message' repeatedly all day. Zardari said ‘we can agree to disagree'; Petraeus responded that the two sides were closer than it seemed. He would work to ensure that the short-term gains of strikes would not be outweighed by their consequences. Mr. Zardari said he did not mind paying the price for high-value targets, but it did not appear that Osama bin Laden had been in our sights lately.”

The President was hopeful that Pakistani forces could push the militants into the mountains where the Government of Pakistan could act against them.

He told General Petraeus: “We intend to finish the job; defeat is not an option.” The militants, said Mr. Zardari, “want my job and the state is literally now at stake as the lives of 180 million Pakistanis depended on success in the fight.”

General Petraeus agreed on the importance of obtaining public support for the campaign against terrorism. The effort would require combined political, economic, military and diplomatic engagement. “Your success is our success,” he said.

Lessons from Iraq

According to the cable, sent by Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, General Petraeus described how some of the lessons American forces learned in Iraq were applicable in Pakistan. Mr. Zardari noted that Pakistan had been fighting militancy from before 9/11; Benazir Bhutto long ago had warned Washington about the dangers of Osama bin Laden. She had negotiated with Washington to return and build a democratic government that could better take on the war, he said.

The cable recorded the subsequent conversation in detail: “Zardari said his government had taken ownership of the terrorism issue and was working to increase public support, but this was not a one day/one generation war. He needed new laws to normalise procedures for those arrested and spoke of the Saudi model that provided a kind of terrorist detoxification programme after a detainee admitted guilt. Petraeus recalled the way the Saudis overcame an existential threat four years ago by using a comprehensive approach that included intelligence, moderate religious education, mosque overhauls, and funding to root out extremists. Mr. Zardari said he wanted to borrow from that model, and modify it according to Pakistani customs.”

Saying Pakistan was a rich country in resources but needed short-term help due to the international economic situation, Mr. Zardari urged U.S. support through the Friends of Pakistan to sustain the country while he created a middle class and fought extremism. “The Taliban,” he said, “can outpay my soldiers.” He needed to compensate persons displaced by the fighting. He was seeking to pay one thousand rupees each to Pakistanis displaced by the fighting in Bajaur, but did not have adequate resources to reach all the displaced. “Zardari identified poverty, refugee camps and madrassahs as ongoing problems that bred extremism,” the cable said.

Mr. Zardari said he was also working on building “regional ownership” of the extremism problem. While he was building goodwill with India and wanted to increase trade, he also wanted to convince Indian leaders they needed ownership of problems in Afghanistan because Pakistan and India cannot solve the Kashmir issue if Indian intelligence can take advantage in Afghanistan.

In this context, the Pakistan President said he recently met the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, “who he thought was not particularly well-informed on Indian intelligence activities in Afghanistan.”

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