Wikileaks: Looking for a Silver Lining

by Jonathan Foreman

The Wikileaks documents, though very different and much less significant than the Pentagon Papers, could well wreak a great deal of damage and give comfort and assistance to the enemies of the West. The Taliban, its allies, and its sponsors across the border may well gain extremely useful information about U.S. and allied tactics. Moreover, the documents’ publication is also a death sentence for some of the named Afghan informants and assets in the leaked materials.

Of course, as a genuine enemy of the United States who wants to see it defeated in Afghanistan and elsewhere, this is unlikely to trouble Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. He is one of those obsessive anti-American, hard-left Australians of the John Pilger type. His animus and his Pilgerish willingness to distort the truth in order to serve the cause became clear with the way that Wikileaks edited and annotated its sensational “collateral murder” gun-camera film in April.

That said, Wikileaks may have done us a favor in one respect. For far too long, senior U.S. and allied officials have downplayed or turned a blind eye to the Pakistani ISI’s relationship with Taliban groups.

They have infuriated the Afghan government by forcing it to play along with the lie that Pakistan is somehow on our side in the Afghan conflict, insisting that it take part in tripartite security consultations with the same Pakistani military officials who are working to overthrow the post-Taliban settlement and restore their longstanding Taliban allies to power in Kabul.

The Taliban regime, after all, was a creation of the ISI. The Pashtun Taliban were Pakistan’s Afghans, while the Northern Alliance were sponsored by India, Russia, China, and the United States — the first two being the most important in Pakistani eyes.

You would have to be much more ignorant of the region’s recent history than Richard Holbrooke or Condi Rice not to know that Pakistan has a long history of engaging in proxy warfare using foreign militant groups, or that Pakistan sees the Karzai government as its enemy and a means by which India can reassert influence in Afghanistan.

Much of Pakistani officialdom sees Afghanistan not just as a Pakistani sphere of influence but as a quasi-colonial possession, one that was stolen from it by the U.S.-led coalition after 9/11. Its military elite has long believed that a Pakistani-controlled Afghanistan provides it with “strategic depth” against India, and that a genuinely independent and functioning Afghanistan would inevitably become an Indian ally, as it was during and before the Soviet period. It was the presence of an “Indo-Soviet” proxy state next door after 1979 that made Pakistan such an enthusiastic facilitator of the U.S.- and Saudi-funded Mujahedin revolt against Soviet rule (though it was always careful to channel U.S. money and arms to its favorite militias and leaders). Pakistani intelligence and special forces played a key role in the Mujahedin campaign within Afghanistan itself — something which is spoken of with great pride in Islamabad — and you would have to be very naïve indeed not to note similar cross-border efforts to arm, train, and coordinate Taliban campaigns against the U.S.-led coalition.

It is possible that the publication of documents that provide actual evidence — rather than rumors — of the role of ISI personnel in Taliban planning, logistics, and strategy will give the West greater leverage in dealing with Islamabad and might force Pakistan’s political elite to confront the reality of the ISI’s secret activities. If so, that would be a silver lining to what is otherwise a military disaster abetted by the U.S. and British media.