WASHINGTON: A treasure trove of US documents implicating Pakistan in its support for terrorism exploded in the public domain on Sunday, sending officials in both countries scurrying to defend a dubious alliance and straining a phony partnership based on a misreading of the ground sentiment and situation.
WikiLeaks, a whistleblower organization that publishes sensitive government leaks from anonymous sources, put a staggering 91,000 documents, mainly ground reports from US military personnel, in public domain on Sunday. Many of the documents exposed Pakistan’s double-faced policy of fuelling terrorism in Afghanistan while claiming to be fighting it as an US ally.
In effect, the chronicles suggested that Washington was blindly paying Pakistan massive amounts of money for access to Afghanistan even as Islamabad uses its spy agency, ISI, to plot the death of American and Nato troops, allied Indian personnel, and undermines US policy. The most devastating leaks showed that Pakistan allows representatives of its spy service, ISI, to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai.
WikiLeaks worked with three media organizations–The New York Times, Germany’s Der Spiegel and The Guardian–to make sense of the massive cache of documents, while not disclosing how it got hold of it. Stunned Washington experts compared it to the leaking of the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam War. What the cache highlighted most was the continuing Pakistani perfidy, and American credulity in accepting Islamabad as an ally and funnelling billions of dollars in aid even as it helped plot US downfall in the region and killed American soldiers.
“Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harboured strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants,” the New York Times said in its assessment of the report. “The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety,” it continued.
“The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Islamabad as an ally by American officials looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Qaida havens,” it added.
That policy of ambivalence and appeasement continued even into the hours after the WikiLeaks expose, as US and Pakistani officials rushed to control the damage. US national security advisor James Jones condemned the “disclosure of classified documents by individuals and organizations”, which, he said, “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security”, when, in effect, the documents suggest it is Washington’s appeasement of Pakistan which is doing that.
US officials also argued that the documents posted by WikiLeaks covered a period from January 2004 to December 2009 and pre-dated President Barack Obama’s new strategy announced on December 1, 2009, when they suggested there began a turnaround “with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on Al Qaida and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years”.
“I don’t think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about the ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we’ve said as much repeatedly and on the record,” one official explained. “The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three-month policy review and a change in strategy.”
But the official also cast aspersions on WikiLeaks and its motive, saying, “It’s worth noting that WikiLeaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes the US policy in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan, as usual, reacted with fury to the disclosures, calling the leaks “malicious and unsubstantiated”. An unnamed official in Islamabad was quoted as saying, “They were from raw intelligence reports that had not been verified and were meant to impugn the reputation of the spy agency.”
A more restrained reaction came from Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani (whose book chronicles the Pakistani military’s jihadi connections and outlook). “The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities,” Haqqani said, plying the current Washington-Islamabad line that whatever happened was in the past.