Classified U.S. diplomatic cables from Pakistan, released by WikiLeaks, reveal that despite billions of dollars in U.S. assistance to the civilian government, it is Pakistan's army that appears to be in charge.
The army is where the power lies in Pakistan, according to defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa. She says anyone seen to be challenging the military or "the military's national narrative is then considered as anti-nationalist, as an enemy of the state, considered as operating on the other side."
The diplomatic dispatches reveal the contempt Pakistan's military has for the country's civilian leadership.
According to classified cables, the head of the military, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, told U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson that as much as he dislikes President Asif Ali Zardari, and hinted last year he may have to oust him, he distrusts the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif even more.
"It means he doesn't trust the two most important politicians in Pakistan," says journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai.
And that means "he'll be unable to work with them. It does not augur well for Pakistani democracy, for the Pakistani state. [Kayani] will like to have his own way," Yusufzai says.
Inside Pakistan's Power Structure
Like many Pakistani observers, Yusufzai is angered to learn from WikiLeaks how Pakistani leaders confided their innermost thoughts to an American ambassador.
"She's holding a court, people coming in and out, telling her stories, and she's taking notes and she's passing it on," he says.
Mushahid Hussain is secretary general of the political faction known as the Pakistan Muslim League. He says the Americans come off as hypocritical for listening to the army chief talk about overthrowing the president -- and not protesting.
"So it seems the Americans are quite blase about their relationship with an elected government, or an elected head of state," he says.
According to the leaked documents, Zardari was so worried that the army would "take him out" that he made elaborate plans to install his sister in power if he were to die.
According to the documents, the army chief quipped, "She'd make a better president than her brother."
Commentator and nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy notes that Zardari makes every effort not to antagonize the military. For example, Zardari agreed to resign as the head of the Nuclear Command Authority, Hoodbhoy says.
"[Zardari] meekly submitted. He said, 'Who do you want as the head?' And they said, 'We'll take the prime minister,' and he said, 'All right, take him.' Now that's the level of subservience that we have to the Pakistani military. What this says is that we're very far away from democracy," Hoodbhoy says.
Siddiqa, the defense analyst, says the military doesn't need to stage a coup d'etat. It's deploying the issue of corruption to corrode the public stature of the civilian leadership.
Zardari was already known as "Mr. 10 Percent" for his dubious handling of contracts when his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, was in power. Siddiqa says the army has deftly turned the president's tarnished image to its advantage.
"You build a little more of his bad reputation, and he's there in the corner trying to defend himself. Once you let people divert their attention toward that, it doesn't take a lot for the military to control the national security policy, the foreign policy, the defense policy. All major issues are controlled by the military," she says.
Retired Brig. Saad Muhammad says unless the civilian government ends what he calls "mega-corruption," the army may have no choice but to stop it.
"If the situation comes to a pass where there is total deadlock and the existence of the country is at stake, then I'm afraid that Mr. Kayani [the army chief] or General X, Y, Z, he will intervene," he says.
Thwarted U.S. Aims
For the Americans, Kayani is not prepared to make the concessions they would like, at least not now. He has rebuffed U.S. pleas to launch a ground operation against the alphabet soup of militants based in Pakistan's border area, including the Haqqani network. Pakistan trusts the Haqqanis to help protect Islamabad's interests in Afghanistan.
In the memos from Patterson, the U.S. ambassador, and exposed by WikiLeaks, the envoy laments that "no amount of enhanced assistance" would persuade Pakistan to abandon these groups. Siddiqa says the Pakistani army will not compromise.
"In fact, Pakistani military has built this immense capacity to break bread with the Americans during the day and sleep with the Taliban at night," the dispatch says.
That problem will continue to preoccupy the Americans in the coming year as it seeks to achieve U.S. goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.