Money before talks, Zardari told US


President Asif Ali Zardari tried to extract financial concessions from the US in exchange for talking with India, according to a US diplomatic cable dating            to February last year and leaked by WikiLeaks.

When the US pressed him to hold talks with India, Zardari said his personal position has to be shored up through economic packages before he can touch topics like India and talks. “Zardari said he needs a ‘deal’ to show his people that he has something to offer them, and that assistance and trade concessions were prerequisites to ‘be able to think about India’,” the US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote in a cable.

Patterson was describing a meeting between Zardari and the chairman of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry last year.

While Kerry was keen for Pakistan to crack down on terrorists, prosecute those arrested for the Mumbai attacks and start talks with India, Zardari told him he cannot press for these things when his people were going hungry.

Zardari said the economic difficulties, which could be alleviated with US concessions such as better access to its market, would enable him to suggest other ideas such as talks with India. He reminded Kerry that Pakistan was ‘fighting a war on a shoestring budget’.

“Zardari expressed his gratitude for US assistance to Pakistan. He opined that he was ‘a casualty of the world recession’ and needed something to give his people, as all they had since he came to power were price increases.

“Zardari requested that the US weigh in with the IMF against further electricity tariff increases. Another increase, he warned, would result in riots in the streets. However, Zardari promised to broaden the tax base and implement a Value-added Tax (VAT), as required by the IMF Stand-by Arrangement. “Zardari said poverty, uncertainty, and the lack of educational and employment opportunities undermined Pakistan’s potential as well as his political standing,” Patterson added.

Interestingly, Zardari expressed worry about the prospect of a complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan.

“Kerry asked Zardari what affect President Obama’s announcement of a US drawdown date had had on the possibility of success in Afghanistan. Zardari answered that it had given a boost to those fighting against the United States, but that they live in illusion.

“Zardari doubted that the US would actually leave Afghanistan in two and a half years, adding that no one can afford that.”

“Kerry asked if dialogue with the Taliban was possible. Zardari gave a qualified yes: in specific regions, like Quetta, dialogue might be possible, but on a larger scale it was not,” Patterson went on.

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