Pak­istani dou­ble-deal­ing un­set­tling

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

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.

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