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Asia

Pakistan is less than surprised by Wikileaks

The leaked US intelligence documents about the Afghanistan war have put the role of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, in allegedly guiding and supporting Taliban attacks in Afghanistan back in the spotlight.

Was Pakistan involved in this attack on India's embassy in Kabul in 2008?

Was Pakistan involved in the attack on India's embassy in Kabul in 2008?

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is on a visit to India this week, said Pakistan should not be allowed to "look both ways" on Afghanistan, and to export terror. Afghan President Hamid Karzai even called for Western military action against terrorist sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan, clearly referring to Pakistan. The Pakistani government continues to dismiss all the allegations as baseless.

British Prime Minister David Cameron with India's Manmohan Singh on Thursday

British Prime Minister David Cameron with India's Manmohan Singh on Thursday

Open secrets

The general sense in the country is that the leaked documents don't really contain any new information, says Kamran Shafi, a columnist for the renowned newspaper Dawn: "We've seen it all before. We know most of the stuff that has come out. It seems to be a very low-level leak. There is no 'smoking gun' per se. There is just one new thing: that the ISI was also part of a plot to assassinate Karzai - well, I don't know about that. Even there, there is no proof."

That the Pakistani military has been on good terms with the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan has been obvious for long, he adds. After all, the Pakistani army and the ISI have openly offered to help start a dialogue with the militants.

Afghan militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani is said to be close to Pakistan

Afghan militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani

"They are speaking to the Haqqani brothers. They say it openly. The Americans know it. The whole world knows it. So what is the great secret about the ISI or our security establishment having links with the Taliban?"

Conspiracy theories

Pakistani observers have highlighted the coincidence of the leak with increasing pressure on Pakistan to do more against the Haqqani network's bases in North Waziristan, for example. Many in Pakistan believe that the documents were actually deliberately "leaked" for this very reason.

"We've got a very strong brigade of conspiracy theorists," says Shafi, "who think everything that happens, happens because Pakistan is the target. In this case, most certainly not! In this case it is the United States and NATO and ISAF and the way they have fought the war in Afghanistan."

No other option for the West

Despite the strong statements by Karzai and Cameron, Pakistanis don't think there will be a long-term impact on Pakistan's relations with other countries, says Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst in Islamabad. "The Americans still have to operate through the Pakistani military. They are the major stakeholders. Without them, they cannot really progress far on Afghanistan."

ISI director general Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha (R) with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

ISI director general Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha (R) with Prime Minister Gilani

In Pakistan itself, the leaks have also not led to an open debate about the country's Afghanistan policy yet - something Kamran Shafi regrets. "There should be input from all over, it should not just be left to the security establishment. I firmly believe that an open debate is extremely necessary. It's not happening because the Pakistan army is in a preponderant position and they do what they like."

Especially at times like these, when pressure from abroad is increasing, Pakistan's civilian politicians are not likely to take on the army and the intelligence agencies.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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