Cables: UK Dismissive Of 'numbskull' Zardari

LONDON (AP) - Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that British officials initially considered Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari a "numbskull" who would not last long in office.

In cables from 2008 released Saturday by the WikiLeaks website, British government officials offered a pessimistic assessment of Pakistan's prospects as it battled financial turmoil and Taliban and al-Qaida violence.

Zardari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in late 2007. He took over her political party and was elected president by lawmakers in September 2008.

In a cable the same month, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in London said the British government "makes no attempt to hide from us its disdain for Zardari."

The memo says British officials saw Zardari as "highly corrupt and lacking popular support, simply having benefited from his wife's unfortunate demise." They predicted he would be out of office within a year.

In a meeting the next month recounted in a separate cable, the then-head of the British military, Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup, told U.S. officials that although Zardari has "made helpful political noises, he's clearly a numbskull."

But the next month a Foreign Office official, Laura Hickey, was quoted as saying Zardari had done "surprisingly well" and the U.K. had underestimated him.

"While Zardari's political lifeline was unclear, Hickey said (Britain) now assesses that he will be in office for a few more years," the cable said.