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Wikileaked Warlogs: Will whistle-blowing change Af-Pak reality?

Ashok K. Behuria is Senior Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • August 05, 2010

    The exposure by the Wikileaks — being projected as the insurgent digital media by its founder, Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and internet activist— may not have revealed more than what we already knew, but it has certainly kicked up a storm and put the White House on the defensive.

    Media reports suggest that it is a well-thought-out effort by anti-war activists to stop the US war effort in Afghanistan. Similar leaks earlier by Daniel Ellsberg in June 1971, better known as ‘Pentagon Papers’, had contributed to rising popular sentiments against the American war effort in Vietnam.

    The Wikileaks reports contain inputs by diplomats, soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground. They provide useful insights into the way the war is being conducted, critical analyses of officials engaged in the reconstruction efforts, and the impressions of Afghan functionaries on the evolving situation.

    Concerns about External actors

    The US concern about Iranian intelligence activities emerges very clearly from the reports. Several of these suggest that Iranian operatives are engaged in inciting the masses, supplying money and materials (MANPAD anti-aircraft missiles too bought from Algeria 01 APR 2007, RC WEST INTSUM, NSI) to Taliban and HIG (Hezb-i-Islami, Gulbiddin) forces. In many cases injured Taliban fighters were reportedly taken to Tehran and other areas in Iran and provided treatment [20 OCT 2006, SEWOC SUMMARY, NSI].

    Reports also point to the Iranian and Russian hand in the formation of political groups like National Unity Council and National Front1 as a political alternative to Karzai in Afghanistan [AMEMBASSY KABUL 01167, 9 Apr 07]. The reports quoting Davood Moradian, senior advisor to Afghan foreign office, say that external intervention may bring back the “politics of the 1990s”, by seeking to fill the Afghan parliament with “puppets” of Iran, Pakistan and even India. Interestingly, Moradian is seen to be conveying to the Americans his concern about the Indian “tendency to try to go beyond the Afghan central government when it should be strengthening relations with core institutions.”

    ISI and Taliban

    Apart from the oft-quoted input by Polish intelligence on 30 June 2008, about a possible attack on the Indian embassy (which actually took place on 7 July 2008), there are several others which attest to ISI-Taliban conspiracies to target Indian interests in Afghanistan. A report dated 18 November 2007, and numbered RC C INTSUM 322 07, (NSI), states:

    ISI gave order to SARKATEEP (phonetic, loyal to HIG, a member of ISI…) to establish relations with some Afghans and to conduct attacks against India Consulships in JALALABAD, KABUL, HERAT, KANDAHAR and MEZAR-E SHARIF. Currently SARKATEP is in JALALABAD. He established relations with a driver whose name is Sardar SHAH (phonetic, an employee of India Consulship in JALALABAD ....) and he is going on to establish relations with another Afghan employee. After that he will go to KABUL (G2X HUMINT SUMMARY, 16 November 2007).

    Yet another report dated 22 March 2008 refers to ISI ‘ordering’ Taliban to eliminate Indian nationals. The concerned reports states:

    Credible reporting …. indicated attacks against civil engineers and workers building roads in NIMRUZ Province are being planned. In one particular case….the ISI ordered Serajuddin HAQQANI to eliminate Indian nationals working in AFGHANISTAN, in exchange for amounts between 15,000 and 30,000 USD…..TB [Taliban] are also planning to kidnap doctors, officers… engineers and labourers who work on the roads between ZARAN[J] and DELARAM. (BICP PIR 1.2, 1.3)

    Several reports indicate the presence of former Director ISI, Hamid Gul, in meetings organised by Taliban all through 2004 to 2009. Gul is credited with planning many attacks in Afghanistan. In fact, one report states that Gul advised the Taliban to “focus their operations inside of Afghanistan in exchange for the Government of Pakistan's security forces turning a blind eye to the presence of AAF [Anti-Afghan Forces] commanders” [ 14 JAN. 2009, TF CASTLE INTSUM 4311, NSI]. Some reports claim that even Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar were present in a high level meeting near Quetta in August 2006 where six foreigners (including a Chinese — Uyghur?) were given USD 50.000 each to conduct attacks in Kunduz, Faryab and Mazar-e-Sharif, and they were promised that their families would be taken care of [16 AUG. 2006, RC NORTH INTSUM 0405, NIS].

    There are repeated mentions of militants planning SUV borne IED attacks. One of them says that even Chinese-made magnetic IEDs were being acquired for use by the Taliban. These magnetic mines were described as “a metal plate with a magnet attached to one side and the explosives to the other.” These were to be planted on roads frequently used by ISAF and Afghan forces throughout Kabul, “utilizing the snow as camouflage”. Once a vehicle drives over the camouflaged plated mine the magnetic side attaches itself to the passing vehicle, and this information is relayed on to a spotter who detonates the mine at the appropriate spot. These mines were reportedly provided by Gul [31 DEC. 2006, CJTF-76 INTSUM, NIS]. The reports also state that it is unknown whether Gul was working on his own or at the behest of ISI.

    The cooperation between the ISI and the insurgents to enable Roshan network, the largest provider of GSM services in Afghanistan, is viewed with suspicion, especially after Taliban militants “in Zharey District of Kandahar provided safe passage to Roshan equipment and personnel through their area to Sangin and Musa Qala districts of Helmand.” The ISAF concerns about the misuse of SIGINT capabilities of Russian, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and Iranian embassies come out in bold relief in the reports. These capabilities are used to monitor ISAF troops movements, it is alleged [25 AUG. 2007, CJ2 JIC ISAF HQ, NATO SECRE REL ISAF].

    There are many inputs hinting at ISI-insurgent nexus in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of them says that ISI “runs a training facility in QUETTA, and train Pakistani activists from Jamyat-Ul-Talabah (PHON) and Harakat Islami Kashmir (PHON) as well as Chechens, Uzbeks, Afghans and Arabs” [16 AUG. 2006, RC NORTH INTSUM 0405, NIS]. Another mentions that “ISI sent 1000 motorcycles to MAWLAWI JALALUDIN HAQQANI for suicide attacks in KHOWST and LOWGAR Province” [(N/I C) 10. On 05.02.1386 (25 APR. 07)]. The story of Al Qaeda, Taliban and other insurgent groups coming together in North Waziristan and planning to double the suicide attacks in July 2007, reportedly under the instruction of Osama Bin Laden, looks so familiar. It is reported that Nooruddin Haqqani (son of Jalaluddin Haqqani) operated from North Waziristan and his group consisted of Chechens, Punjabis and Arabs [DOI: 21 May 07; OHR: CIINTREP CI BUL/99 – 07].

    While many of these inputs may not be true, they betray the sense of concern amongst the US and NATO forces about the adverse effects of ISI-insurgents connivance in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    The US response

    The response from the US to these leaks has been rather defensive. An email from the White House cautions that Wikileaks is “not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.” It mentions that the US government is aware of the ISI’s duplicity and sends out a list containing 28 statements by various officials to this effect since President Obama initiated his Af-Pak policy — including two statements issued by the President and 26 statements issued by various officials including Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus. These statements express concerns about linkages among the ISI, the Taliban and other extremist outfits operating out of Pakistan.

    However, the US has, all through, demonstrated surprising patience with Pakistan’s reluctance to sever links with the Taliban and its selective approach towards extremism emanating from its soil. At one time threatening to bomb Pakistan to stone-age, the US has discovered the limits of its coercive ability vis-à-vis Pakistan.

    One may ask, if the suspicion of ISI is so overwhelming amongst the US and NATO forces, then why does the US choose to work so closely with Pakistan? The answer perhaps lies in its failing efforts in Afghanistan and sense of fatigue among its allies. Given ISI’s continued romance with Taliban, the US perhaps seeks to salvage the situation by leveraging these linkages to improve the situation in Afghanistan and facilitate the process of withdrawal.

    Will whistle blowing help?

    There is a strong belief in Washington that an economically weak Pakistan can be persuaded through inducement and occasional admonishments to help the US repeat an Iraq in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, there may be a move to further consolidate the American strategic presence in Pakistan and in the neighbourhood. Most American officials assure us that there will not be a repeat of 1989 this time; that they have learnt their lessons from history and would not abandon the region to ISI and Pakistan.

    In fact, leaving a nuclear Pakistan to deal with the after-effects of an Afghan pull-out could be potentially disastrous, especially when the Taliban-effect has spread beyond the tribal belt. A post-withdrawal Af-Pak with a resurrected and legitimised Taliban, buoyed by a sense of victory over the pre-eminent power in the world today, is not a happy prospect.

    It is naive to imagine such success will persuade the Taliban to quarantine itself obligingly within Afghan borders. In the event of a successful power-sharing arrangement with Karzai, the Taliban is likely to gradually strengthen its hold on Kabul and re-impose its retrograde values on the Afghans. Will they also take care of American sensitivities towards Al Qaeda to spare themselves from the stealth bombers and drones? Will the US be content with Taliban if it manages to contain the Al Qaeda threat?

    In Pakistan, the situation is less likely to change. The radical Sunni-Wahabi elements operating under different names and with different agendas have coalesced into a seamless whole. They have remarkably realigned their operational tactics and objectives. They have a common dream of annihilating other religions (primarily Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism) and establishing an Islamic caliphate in the world. The recent attacks on the Ahmadiyas and Data Durbar in Lahore reveal their hardening stance on the sectarian front. They have a one-dimensional view of Islam — extremely intolerant, orthodox and inflexible. Will they stop at Kabul? Provided they do, will Pakistan stop using them against India? Who in Pakistan can resist the temptation of diverting the attention of such an insurrectionary constituency towards Kashmir and India? It has played this game successfully in the past and may play it again. Will the US look at it as avoidable localized terrorism? It can do so only at its own peril.

    General Kayani, now serving his extended term, will certainly not like to stir the hornet’s nest once American pressure subsides. His focus may shift to the eastern border and Kashmir. While a large number of Pakistani jihadis may try to relocate to Kashmir, the Al Qaeda related elements will continue to nest and breed in Pakistani soil. The whistle blowing by Wikileak will neither have any impact on Pakistani behaviour nor reduce the threat of cross-border terror for India.

    While the US may continue to keep its contacts with the Pakistani army and its political leadership and strengthen its presence in Pakistan, can it contain the tide of Islamic radicalism prospering within Pakistan? Can it dissuade the Pakistan Army not to play with fire?

    India finds itself in an unenviable situation in the existing circumstances. It should stop expecting the US to put pressure on Pakistan to rein in jihadi forces beyond a point. The international community’s commitment to fight terror, in all probability, will evaporate once they withdraw from Afghanistan. India has to fight its own battle alone. It has to prepare itself for that.

    • 1. It is known otherwise as United National Front or Jabah-e-Mili— a loose coalition of various social and ethnic groups, regional strongmen, anti-communist resistance leaders and even communist leaders.