Pakistani double-dealing unsettling
There is a lot to be disturbed by in the battlefield reports from Afghanistan released Sunday by WikiLeaks. The close-up details of war are always unsettling, even more so with this war.
But the most alarming of the reports described the cynical collusion between Pakistan’s military intelligence service and the Taliban. Despite the billions of dollars the United States has sent in aid to Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, the reports offer powerful evidence that crucial elements of Islamabad’s power structure have been actively helping the forces attacking the American-led military coalition.
The time line of the documents from WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to exposing secrets, stops before President Barack Obama put his military and political strategy into effect in December. Administration officials say they have made progress with Pakistan since, but it is hard to see much evidence of that so far.
Most of the WikiLeaks documents cannot be verified. However, they confirm a picture of Pakistani double-dealing that has been building for years.
On a trip to Pakistan last October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that officials in the Pakistani government knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding. Gen. David Petraeus, the new top military commander in Afghanistan, recently acknowledged longstanding ties between Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, known as ISI, and the “bad guys.”
The Times report of the new documents suggests the collusion goes even deeper, that representatives of the ISI have worked with the Taliban to organize networks of militants to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan and hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said the reports were unsubstantiated and “do not reflect the current on-ground realties.” But at this point, denials about links with the militants are simply not credible.
Why would Pakistan play this dangerous game? The ISI has long seen the Afghan Taliban as a proxy force, a way to ensure its influence on the other side of the border and keep India’s influence at bay.
Pakistani officials also privately insist that they have little choice but to hedge their bets given their suspicions that Washington will once again lose interest as it did after the Soviets were ousted from Afghanistan in 1989. And until last year, when the Pakistani Taliban came within 60 miles of Islamabad, the country’s military and intelligence establishment continued to believe they could control the extremists when they needed to.
In recent months, the Obama administration has said and done many of the right things toward building a long-term relationship with Pakistan. It has committed to economic aid. It is encouraging better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is reminding Pakistani leaders that extremists pose a mortal threat to Pakistan’s fragile democracy — and their own survival. We don’t know if they’re getting through. We know they have to.
It has been only seven months since Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and a few weeks since Petraeus took command. But Americans are increasingly weary of this costly war. If Obama cannot persuade Islamabad to cut its ties to and aggressively fight the extremists in Pakistan, there is no hope of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.