Since the release of 90,000 pages of classified US military intelligence on operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan by WikiLeaks, the Obama administration has struggled to win the media war. As Vice President Joe Biden insisted in an interview with NBC on Thursday, “All those leaks predate our policy. That’s been a problem in the past, it’s a problem we’re dealing with.” He specified: “Not one leak is consistent with our policy announced in December.”
But US officials interviewed by the New York Times confirmed that the overall portrayal of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) “collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.” The documents show that the ISI has “acted as both ally and enemy… appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while angling to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate.”
These revelations come hot on the heels of independent studies arriving at the same conclusion. The first, by Harvard University fellow Dr. Matt Walden, and published by the LSE’s Crisis States Research Centre, interviewed Taliban field commanders and Western defence officials who said that the ISI continues to be “the provider of sanctuary and substantial financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency” as a part of its “official policy” of exerting “strong strategic and operational influence on the Afghan Taliban.” The RAND Corp published its own report documenting official ISI support for militant Islamist networks such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. “Militant groups persist … because Pakistani leaders continue to provide support”, the study noted, urging that “a key objective of US policy must be to get Pakistan to end [this] support.”
More disturbing is that US military intelligence has been fully cognizant of Pakistan’s sponsorship of the insurgency for the last decade. Confidential NATO reports and US intelligence assessments circulated amongst White House officials have documented consistent ISI support for Taliban insurgents. As head of the ISI between 2004 and 2007, current Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Kayani presided over Taliban training camps in Balochistan and, in September 2006, provided insurgents in Kandahar with 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 400,000 rounds of ammunition. In 2008, US intelligence intercepted a communication in which Kiyani described senior insurgent leader Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose insurgent network runs much of the insurgency around Kabul and eastern Afghanistan, as a “strategic asset.”
This evidence is hardly commensurate with the notion that ISI support for the Taliban is a rogue operation. Indeed, it implicates Kayani himself. Yet last August Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, argued that Kayani was committed to purging the ISI to end its support for militant networks. He and other Obama officials persuaded Congress to sign up for an unconditional package of $6 billion in military and economic assistance to Pakistan for five years.
The Obama administration now appears to be flirting with the notion that a military victory against the Taliban might not be forthcoming and thus some sort of power-sharing arrangement, as suggested by the Bush administration before 9/11, is the most plausible solution.
In any case, the policy of unconditional military support for Pakistan as a key ally in the “war on terror” is clearly counterproductive. In effect, the US may well have subsidized the massive 90 per cent increase in violence in Afghanistan over the last year. As long as ISI officials believe that the US is dependent on them to secure its objectives, they will continue to exploit the military alliance to their own perceived regional advantage.