Pakistan’s Double Game
Published: July 26, 2010There 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, which was so badly neglected and bungled by President George W. Bush.
But the most alarming of the reports were the ones that 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, they offer powerful new evidence that crucial elements of Islamabad’s power structure have been actively helping to direct and support 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 Obama put his own military and political strategy into effect last 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, which were the subject of in-depth coverage in The Times on Monday, 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 Rodham 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 the ISI, and the “bad guys.”
The Times’s 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.
The article painted a chilling picture of the activities of Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul of Pakistan, who ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, when the agency and the C.I.A. were together arming the Afghan militias fighting Soviet troops. General Gul kept working with those forces, which eventually formed the Taliban.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said the reports were unsubstantiated and “do not reflect the current on-ground realities.” 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 it could control the extremists when it 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 long-term economic aid. It is encouraging better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is constantly reminding Pakistani leaders that the extremists, on both sides of the border, 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 Mr. Obama announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, and a few weeks since General Petraeus took command. But Americans are increasingly weary of this costly war. If Mr. Obama cannot persuade Islamabad to cut its ties to, and then aggressively fight, the extremists in Pakistan, there is no hope of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.