The ream of documents put on the internet by Wikileaks has left the White House rather red-faced. Though the allegations have been denied by all sides, the details of attacks and plots contained in them are obviously an embarrassment to Washington — and perhaps to Islamabad as well. Citizens will undoubtedly ask why millions of dollars in aid continue to be doled out to a country, working against US interests, at least on the face of it. As for Pakistan, initial comment has come from our ambassador to America, Hussain Haqqani, who called the leaks a “distraction” and, like the White House, indicated that they were dated and hence inaccurate. Mr Haqqani called the leaked reports “unprocessed” and that they did “not reflect the current on ground realities”. The Washington Post in a report from Islamabad quoted an unnamed ISI official as dismissing the leaks saying they contained unverified raw information designed to damage the intelligence agency’s reputation.
One view will be that the Wikileaks documents appear to reinforce perceptions — or misgivings, if you will, in several western capitals and in the western media – of a nexus between the ISI, retired generals who once ran the organisation and the Taliban who operate inside Afghanistan. (US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks during her Islamabad visit last week that “elements” in the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are one example of these doubts.) America’s National Security Adviser General James Jones has strongly criticised Wikileaks, saying it should have checked with the US government, especially since the disclosures risk putting lives of American and allied troops and officials at risk. He also said that the documents that have been revealed are prior to the period that US President Barack Obama ordered a review of America’s policies in Afghanistan. General Jones’s remarks are presumably meant to reassure Islamabad that Washington has nothing to do with the leaks. However, one can only wonder what the real response — and not the public one — will be in Islamabad and in Rawalpindi. Given that Pakistanis anyway excel in the art of weaving conspiracy theories, and given that many are often based on actual ground realities, there is bound to be a feeling that perhaps the documents were deliberately leaked. Consider the timing: the leaks come at a time of increased contacts between the Afghan leadership and the Pakistan military. Clearly, were Afghan President Hamid Karzai to strike a deal with Pakistan separately, prior to America’s pullout, that wouldn’t go down well with Washington. However, seen from Pakistan’s point of view, this may not be such a bad idea given that once the Americans leave the mess left behind, it will have to be cleaned by no one other than Kabul and Islamabad.
While this kind of engagement with the Afghan government is all well and good, and should be done to protect Pakistan’s own interests once the Americans leave the region, it does not justify having the Taliban as allies. Those who favour this strategy should know its repercussions given what happened when Pakistan installed a Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Surely we have not forgotten what the Taliban did to the Afghan population when they were in power, and how in no time they became reviled both inside that country and overseas for their despotic and cruel rule (especially with regard to Afghan women and minorities). So when the Americans do eventually leave Afghanistan that should not mean that Pakistan should seek to install yet another Taliban regime there.
After all, our policymakers — military as well as civilian — need to understand that there really is no distinction between the so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. Both those who target and operate in Pakistan and in Afghanistan have close ties to each other and their ‘aims’ and ‘goals’ can easily change if the situation demands it. It is precisely because of our close engagement with such groups in the past that Pakistani society is suffering so much and our soldiers and policemen are being targeted by suicide bombers. And hence all the more reason for such a policy to be discarded — Wikileaks or no Wikileaks.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2010.