Pakistan: Ally or Enemy?

WikiLeaks documents raise questions about their role in Afghanistan

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Perhaps the biggest revelation of the WikiLeaks document dump on the Afghan war is the allegation, made in a number of internal U.S. reports, that Pakistan's military intelligence service may be working with the Taliban. While the suspected coordination of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the Taliban has been well known and reported for years, the media coverage of WikiLeaks has returned that connection to international attention. Here's what experts have to say about the Pakistani "double game," as the New York Times calls it.

  • No 'Smoking Gun'  The Guardian's Declan Walsh writes, "for all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated. The same characters – famous Taliban commanders, well-known ISI officials – and scenarios repeatedly pop up. And few of the events predicted in the reports subsequently occurred."
  • Pakistan Will Never Be Our Ally  National security blogger Steve Hynd exhaustively catalogs Pakistan and the ISI's recent history of supporting terrorism and anti-U.S. violence. "Expecting Pakistan to do anything more than play a double game ... is expecting too much." He concludes, "Pakistan is not now and never will be a natural ally of the United States. It is already a satellite state of China's, with deep economic and military ties that bind it to its larger neighbour as well as a mutual enemy in India."
  • Pakistan Also Fights the Taliban  The Columbia Journalism Review's Joshua Foust points out that it's more complicated. "Pakistan has also lost nearly 2,000 soldiers trying to remove the Taliban from its restive Northwest (an area where rumor is fact more often than not). And for several years, the U.S. hasn’t been shy about flinging missiles and SEAL hit squads into Pakistan to root out these same insurgents—to muted protest when the Pakistani government even bothers to protest publicly."

  • Why Pakistan Plays 'Double Game'  The New York Times explains in a staff editorial that the ISI "has long seen the Afghan Taliban as a proxy force" to expand its influence and block the perceived existential threat from India. "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."
  • Cut Off Pakistan  The Daily Beast's Tunku Varadarajan fumes, "We pay them money so that they can help our enemies kill us." He advises, "We are now at a crossroads with Pakistan, a point at which we need to pull out old words from the Bush playbook. It is time to state to them ... that Pakistan is either with us, or against us. ... Right now, as I see things—leaks and all—it is resoundingly, irrefutably against us."
  • Don't Cut Off Pakistan  The New York Times urges, "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."
  • Pakistan Losing Control of Taliban  Newsweek's Ron Moreau reports, "Pakistan has finally begun pushing for an end to the war. Taliban commanders say they’re thoroughly sick of Islamabad using them for its own foreign-policy purposes, and the group is now distancing itself from its former patrons and overseers. 'Pakistan is worried that it is losing control,' says a similarly unnamed senior Taliban logistics official who shuttles between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas. 'The fact that our leadership can now survive and thrive away from Pakistani control and influence is a good sign and shows that the insurgency is becoming more free and independent.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.