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Our Sometime-Allies In Pakistan, Part The Umptieth
Posted by on August 23rd, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Late yesterday, both the Washington Post and the New York Times dropped articles casting grave doubts on the zeal of America's "indispensible ally" in the War on Terror.

In the Washington Post, the new Afghan national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta writes that "Pakistan is the Afghan war's real aggressor":

The conflict we are engaged in is becoming a long and expensive war for us and our international partners. The Afghan people are rightly frustrated and exhausted by a war in which the line between friends and foes is blurred. Global opinion has also turned against us. Yet surely it is understandable that we have failed to mobilize people for a cause where the fighting is in one place and the enemy is in another. How can we persuade Afghans, or the parents of young soldiers from coalition countries, to support a war where our "partners" are involved in killing their sons and daughters? While we are losing dozens of men and women to terrorist attacks every day, the terrorists' main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction justified?

The Afghan people are no longer ready to pay the price for the international community's miscalculation and naivety. The aggressor understands only one language: that of force and determination. Afghanistan, along with the United States and many other nations, is a victim of terrorism. The international community must establish a clear alliance among such victims. We cannot mobilize the Afghan people with uncertainty, confusion or appeasement of those who sponsor terrorism.

Notice that he doesn't have a problem with other nations interfering in his country? The US and its Coalition, Russia, China, India, Iran – all of whome back factions and meddle to a greater or lesser extent – they're all apparently ok by him. What he seems to object to is not foreign powers meddling in Afghanistan, but their meddling on the "wrong" side.

But, be that as it may, the New York Times has a potentially far more explosive bit of reporting from veteran journolist Dexter Filkins. The original headline was "Pakistanis Say Taliban Arrest Was Meant to Hurt Peace Bid". That's been changed to the less inflammatory "Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest" but the content is still the same - that Pakistani officilas told Filkins that:

"they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer."

…“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”

That possibility had already been widely discussed by commentators, pundits and analysts but Filkins has put the matter in a clearer context:

Within days of Mr. Baradar’s arrest, Pakistani agents picked up as many as 22 other Taliban leaders across Pakistan, according to an official with the United Nations in Kabul. The detentions included some of the most senior Taliban commanders, including Mullah Qayoom Zakir, Abdul Kabeer and Abdul Rauf Khadem.

“We know where the shadow government is,” the Pakistani security official said.

The official said the detained Taliban leaders were warned against carrying out future negotiations without their permission. A former Western diplomat, with long experience in the region, confirmed that the ISI sent a warning to its Taliban protégés.

“The message from the ISI was: no flirting,” he said.

The CIA's role, and by extension the US government as a whole, seems to have been to simply succumb to Jedi mind tricks:

The Pakistanis refused to allow the C.I.A. to interrogate Mr. Baradar or even to be present when they spoke. Another Pakistani official said Mr. Baradar was taken to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was debriefed. It was only several days later that the C.I.A. learned of his identity and were allowed to question him.

The Pakistani official even joked about the C.I.A.’s naïveté. “They are so innocent,” he said.

No real surprise to observers there, other than that the Pakistanis are being so candid. As Bernard Finel asks, "As a general rule, you don't flaunt that sort of thing. I mean, why do it?"

That became the subject of my discussion on Twitter late last night with Newshoggers pal Josh Mull, the Seminal's Afghanistan blogging fellow, and Vikram Sood, the retired ex-head of India's RAW intelligence agency. Josh's take was that he "wouldn't underestimate the possibility that these leaks are specifically to give US officials more leverage" - something Mr. Sood didn't discount, writing that as Washington was looking for a "victory" to proclaim soon, some new pressure on Pakistan would give D.C. extra leverage.

The officials Filkins quotes would only do so if they were sure it wouldn't cause a massive about-turn in US policy on Pakistan and if they were sure it served their own national purposes to leak. Certainly there's only so much pressure the US can extert on Islamabad. As Pakistani writer Shahid Ilyas noted in his op-ed yesterday, the US has painted itself into a corner over the last decade by continually proclaiming wholehearted support for Pakistan, such that now "US officials privately express their inability to pressurise Pakistan beyond certain limits".

However, by openly telling Islamabad and the ISI "we know what you're up to – so keep doing the deals but be fair and more open about it", the White House perhaps intends to mitigate Pakistan's wish to have things all it's own way. And for Pakistan's part, the message to both the US and Afghan leaders is clearly that they are firmly in the driving seat and need to be placated.

I expect these revelations to increase calls among the Beltway VSP set to "do something" more – probably something kenetic involving more drones and special forces - to take the direction of the War On Terror in Pakistan away from Islamabad. But that'll be the extent of it. Many will probably try to simply write off the whole thing as just another part of the Afghan v Pakistani agitprop war. They're just as backed into a corner by their previous rhetoric as the US government is.

What's going to be really interesting, though, is if any media type has the nerve to ask General Petraeus about all this during his next round of TV appearances in the PR war on the American public.  Josh thinks if Petraeus has to admit that the ISI is waging proxy war against American troops in Afghanistan and that the US policy is to basically allow this while talking sternly, calls for withdrawal will go down, not up. As he writes, the options will be "Either admit straight out we are in a war against AQ inside Pakistan or withdraw. No bait and switch."Other than feeding fuel to the Gingritch/War On Islam section of the GOP, most will opt for withdrawal.

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