Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
WikiLeaks: shaking the foundations of U.S. policy toward Pakistan
A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.
On the face of it, you could ask what’s new about the latest disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the Taliban insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aid to fight Islamic militancy of all hues. Hasn’t this been known all along — something that a succession of top U.S. officials and military leaders have often said, sometimes couched in diplomatic speech and sometimes rather clearly?
It was only last week that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there must be somebody in the Pakistani government who knew Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Coming from America’s top diplomat, it couldn’t be more blunt.
Then why is a trove of over 90,000 classified military documents released by WikiLeaks on the war in Afghanistan causing so much consternation? Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, says it is now much more difficult to deny or dodge the truths that everyone has been aware of:
Government officials can always deflect news stories simply by crossing their fingers and waiting for the story to sink in a haze of oil spills and Lindsay Lohan extravaganzas. Now, however, “proof” is there in the black-and-white of secret U.S. documents, compliments of anti-war WikiLeaks. Even if one does not believe that the information contained in every one of these reports is accurate (some do sound rather bizarre), and even if little in the reports can be corroborated independently, the very volume of the “secret” material is overwhelming and plausible—and yes, seductively “secret.”
The White House condemned the leak, saying it could threaten national security and endanger the lives of Americans. Islamabad said leaking unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible and added that Pakistan had paid in blood fighting militants.
But Gelb says the documents reveal the fundamental disconnect in the U.S. administration’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and that “no amount of rhetorical tap dancing will allow the White House to escape these contradictions.”
According to the documents, representatives from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) met directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize militant networks fighting U.S. soldiers. One report, dated August 2008, identifies a colonel in the ISI plotting with a Taliban official to assassinate President Hamid Karzai. The report contained no information about how or when this would be carried out.
Another shows that Polish intelligence warned of a complex attack against the Indian Embassy in Kabul a week before it was bombed in July 2008, although the attackers and their methods differed. While the ISI was not named in the report warning of the attack, CIA deputy director Stephen R. Kappes later confronted Pakistani officials with evidence that the ISI helped plan the deadly bombing.
By showering billions of dollars in aid and military assistance on Pakistan, the United States has, in effect, ended up providing the ISI with resources to fight Americans on the Afghan battlefield, Gelb argues. Gelb says:
The United States is giving “moderate” Pakistanis and the Pakistani military billions of dollars yearly in military and economic aid, which allows Pakistani military intelligence to “secretly” help the Taliban kill Americans in Afghanistan, which will drive America out of Afghanistan and undermine U.S. help for Pakistan.
Writing in The Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan notes that much of the latest involvement in the Afghan insurgency by the ISI happened on army chief General Ashfaq Kayani’s watch, when he was the head of the ISI. Kayani, he notes, has just been given a three-year extension, to ensure continuity in the Pakistani military as it fights militancy. Varadarajan writes:
We are now at a crossroads with Pakistan, a point at which we need to pull out old words from the Bush playbook. It is time to state to them—to state, in particular, to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan army’s chief of staff—that Pakistan is either with us, or against us. There can be no caveats, no exit clauses, no fine print, no weasely handwringing about Pakistan’s need to retain “strategic balance” in Afghanistan.