WikiLeaks: Don’t Sweat Pakistan’s Corruption, US Tells Saudis

Oliver Berg-DPA/Zuma

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


During a May 16, 2009, meeting in Riyadh with a senior Saudi official, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke—the Obama administration’s special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan—said that corruption in Pakistan was a problem but indicated that Washington had decided not to focus on it, according to a confidential cable sent from the US embassy in Riyadh to the State Department that was released by WikiLeaks.

Holbrooke was meeting with Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s assistant interior minister, and much of the conversation concerned Pakistan. Holbrooke emphasized that to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, the US and Saudi governments need to work together regarding Pakistan. Yet the meeting showed there were differences. MbN—as the cable called him—said that the Saudi government “viewed the Pakistan army as the strongest element for stability in the country.” In reply, Holbrooke noted the US supported Pakistan’s democracy.

Holbrooke was in Saudi Arabia to brief officials on the Obama administration’s policy on Afghanistan—which emphasized achieving stability in Pakistan. According to the cable, he told the prince, “The U.S. might be able to live with some degree of instability in Afghanistan, but not with an unstable Pakistan, because of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, fragile politics, and relationship with India.” MbN said the Saudis “absolutely” shared this perspective. (The cable noted that King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the same thing in subsequent meetings with Holbrooke.)

Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat, said that the US and Saudi Arabia shared a common purpose regarding Pakistan but had not yet forged a “common collaboration.” If Pakistan were to fall apart, Holbroke remarked, the consequences for Saudi Arabia would be “unimaginable,” particularly if unfriendly hands snatched Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. “God forbid!” the prince exclaimed.

Holbrooke was angling for more Saudi assistance to Pakistan that would help the civilian government. Yet MbN was more keen on talking up General Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful Pakistani army chief of staff. He told Holbrooke the army was Pakistan’s “best bet” for stability. And the Saudis, MbN declared, care deeply about stability in Pakistan, given that 800,000 Pakistanis and more than 1 million Indians live in Saudi Arabia. MbN noted that the Saudis would not support a military coup in Pakistan, but he clearly wasn’t worried that Kayani could become the de facto ruler of Pakistan. (A February 12, 2010, cable from the US embassy in Riyadh reinforced this point: “The tumultuous democratic process in Pakistan makes the Saudis nervous, and they appear to be looking for ‘another Musharraf’: a strong, forceful leader they know they can trust.”)

The cable reported that when the matter of corruption in Pakistan emerged, Holbroke “agreed” it was an issue, but he said that “the US had decided it was more important to help Pakistan.” (In a March 3, 2009, secret cable to FBI director Robert Mueller, the US embassy in Islamabad said, “Although we do not believe Pakistan is a failed state, we nonetheless recognize that the challenges the state confronts are dire… The bureaucracy has settled into third-world mediocrity, as demonstrated by corruption and a limited capacity to implement or articulate policy.”) The prince said that King Abdullah despised the corruption that he saw in Pakistan and this colored his views toward that country. The cable did not record Holbrooke responding to this. Clearly, he had tried to play down the problem of Pakistani corruption, and the conversation moved on. But in this dialogue, one side was talking up the need to work with the civilian (though corruption-ridden) government, and the other was promoting the ability of the military to impose stability.

Holbrooke and the prince then discussed Yemen. MbN called it a dangerous failed state, noting it was a threat to Saudi Arabia because it was attracting Al Qaeda operatives. He said the Saudis had a strategy to co-opt—that is, buy off—Yemeni tribes with assistance projects. The prince also talked about the Saudi connection to terrorism. He said that in 2003, radicals were present in “90 percent” of Saudi mosques. He noted, according to the cable,

The Saudis realized they could not fight back without public support, he said, and developed a strategy of working with families of suicide bombers and other extremists who had been killed. This approach involved providing support to the families and telling them their sons had been “victims” and not “criminals.” This gave the families “a way out” and provided a public relations advantage to the government. “If you stop five but create fifty” new radicals, “that’s dumb,” MbN said.

The prince claimed that the Saudis wanted to defeat Islamic terrorists in cooperation with Washington. Time, he added, was “not in our favor,” so “we need to work fast.”

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE ON MOTHER JONES' FINANCES

We need to start being more upfront about how hard it is keeping a newsroom like Mother Jones afloat these days.

Because it is, and because we're fresh off finishing a fiscal year, on June 30, that came up a bit short of where we needed to be. And this next one simply has to be a year of growth—particularly for donations from online readers to help counter the brutal economics of journalism right now.

Straight up: We need this pitch, what you're reading right now, to start earning significantly more donations than normal. We need people who care enough about Mother Jones’ journalism to be reading a blurb like this to decide to pitch in and support it if you can right now.

Urgent, for sure. But it's not all doom and gloom!

Because over the challenging last year, and thanks to feedback from readers, we've started to see a better way to go about asking you to support our work: Level-headedly communicating the urgency of hitting our fundraising goals, being transparent about our finances, challenges, and opportunities, and explaining how being funded primarily by donations big and small, from ordinary (and extraordinary!) people like you, is the thing that lets us do the type of journalism you look to Mother Jones for—that is so very much needed right now.

And it's really been resonating with folks! Thankfully. Because corporations, powerful people with deep pockets, and market forces will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. Only people like you will.

There's more about our finances in "News Never Pays," or "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal," and we'll have details about the year ahead for you soon. But we already know this: The fundraising for our next deadline, $350,000 by the time September 30 rolls around, has to start now, and it has to be stronger than normal so that we don't fall behind and risk coming up short again.

Please consider pitching in before moving on to whatever it is you're about to do next. We really need to see if we'll be able to raise more with this real estate on a daily basis than we have been, so we're hoping to see a promising start.

—Monika Bauerlein, CEO, and Brian Hiatt, Online Membership Director

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE ON MOTHER JONES' FINANCES

We need to start being more upfront about how hard it is keeping a newsroom like Mother Jones afloat these days.

Because it is, and because we're fresh off finishing a fiscal year, on June 30, that came up a bit short of where we needed to be. And this next one simply has to be a year of growth—particularly for donations from online readers to help counter the brutal economics of journalism right now.

Straight up: We need this pitch, what you're reading right now, to start earning significantly more donations than normal. We need people who care enough about Mother Jones’ journalism to be reading a blurb like this to decide to pitch in and support it if you can right now.

Urgent, for sure. But it's not all doom and gloom!

Because over the challenging last year, and thanks to feedback from readers, we've started to see a better way to go about asking you to support our work: Level-headedly communicating the urgency of hitting our fundraising goals, being transparent about our finances, challenges, and opportunities, and explaining how being funded primarily by donations big and small, from ordinary (and extraordinary!) people like you, is the thing that lets us do the type of journalism you look to Mother Jones for—that is so very much needed right now.

And it's really been resonating with folks! Thankfully. Because corporations, powerful people with deep pockets, and market forces will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. Only people like you will.

There's more about our finances in "News Never Pays," or "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal," and we'll have details about the year ahead for you soon. But we already know this: The fundraising for our next deadline, $350,000 by the time September 30 rolls around, has to start now, and it has to be stronger than normal so that we don't fall behind and risk coming up short again.

Please consider pitching in before moving on to whatever it is you're about to do next. We really need to see if we'll be able to raise more with this real estate on a daily basis than we have been, so we're hoping to see a promising start.

—Monika Bauerlein, CEO, and Brian Hiatt, Online Membership Director

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate