Wednesday, July 28

WikiLeaks revelations and Obama's policy on Pakistan

"Even if the Obama Administration did not want to act against Pakistan for killing Indians, one would have expected it to act against Pakistan for contributing to the deaths of US soldiers by assisting the Taliban."
Monday, July 26, 2010

The leakage of nearly 90,000 documents relating to the Afghan war for the period between January 2004 and December 2009 by Wikileaks, a US web site which disseminates secret information of public interest received from whistleblowers after verifying the authenticity of the secret information, could damage the chances of re-election of President Barack Obama in the presidential elections of 2012.

2. The documents cover a period of six years--- five years of the presidency of Mr.George Bush and one year of Mr.Obama. The reaction of the officials of the Obama Administration to the leakage went through three phases. In the first phase, they tried to prevent the secret documents from being brought into the public domain. In the second phase, they grudgingly admitted the seriousness of the facts as disclosed in the leaked documents and sought to absolve the Obama Administration of responsibility for the state of affairs in Afghanistan as revealed in these documents by highlighting the fact that most of these documents related to the period when Mr.Bush was the President.

Only now it has dawned upon them that about 20 per cent of the leaked documents relate to the period since January 2009 when Mr.Obama took over as the President. Even if the vast majority of the documents cover five years of the presidency of Mr.Bush, there will be a legitimate assumption under the law that officials of the Obama Administration---if not Mr.Obama himself--- must have been aware of all this.

3. Yet, the Obama Administration did not take into account this disturbing state of affairs in Afghanistan while formulating its new Af-Pak strategy. This strategy had two aspects. The first was a surge in US troops sent to Afghanistan in an attempt to weaken, if not defeat, the Taliban by the middle of 2011. The second was to integrate Pakistan into this strategy in order to seek its co-operation in the military operations against the Taliban and in restoring stability in Afghanistan.

4. As part of this attempt to integrate Pakistan into this strategy, military and economic assistance amounting to US $ 7.5 billion over a five-year period for Pakistan was got approved by the Congress under the Kerry-Lugar Bill. As the Congress was discussing and approving the Bill, the officials of the Obama Administration were aware of the continuing collusion of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the Taliban and the ISI's attempts to de-stabilise the Hamid Karzai Government. They were also aware of the role of the Taliban in the bomb explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7,2008, in which 58 persons were killed.

5. Despite the availability in the records of the Administration of all this information regarding the deception played by Pakistan on the US, the officials of the Administration persuaded the Congress to pass the Bill. From the comments made by Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, regarding the leaks it is apparent that he has been disturbed by the disclosures regarding Pakistan's collusion with the Taliban made in the leaked documents. The British Broadcasting Corporation has quoted him as saying: "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."

[Pundita note: Kerry has since backpedaled from his strong statement]

6. Mr.Kerry and other members of the Congress who voted increased economic and military assistance for Pakistan might have been unaware of the full details of what Kr.Kerry described as "the reality of America's policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan." But Mr.Obama and his advisers in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon cannot claim that they too were unaware.

7. What role did the ISI's collusion with the Taliban play in the increasing fatalities suffered by the US troops in Afghanistan? How could the Obama Administration have decided to step up military and economic assistance to Pakistan despite being aware of the "reality" of the ISI's role in helping the Taliban in its operations against the US and NATO troops. Previously, it used to be believed that the ISI was using terrorist organisations only to kill Indian nationals and target Indian interests. The leaked documents clearly indicate that the ISI had been knowingly helping the Taliban, another terrorist organisation, against the troops of the US-led NATO forces and the Afghan Security Forces.

8. Even if the Obama Administration did not want to act against Pakistan for killing Indians, one would have expected it to act against Pakistan for contributing to the deaths of US soldiers by assisting the Taliban. In spite of having and knowing all these details about the ISI-Taliban collusion, the Obama Administration chose not to act. That is the shocking "reality of America's policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan."

9.As these facts are widely discussed in the US, the credibility of Mr.Obama could be dented and his chances for re-election as the President damaged.

10.The second implication of the Wikileaks should be of concern to the intelligence and security agencies of all countries of the world, including India. That is how did a junior US military analyst posted in Baghdad come to have access to two highly-classified data bases of the US---- one of the Pentagon relating to military developments and the other probably of the US State Department relating to diplomatic developments. He seems to have transferred to compact discs the contents of nearly 200,000 documents from these two data bases. Only 90,000 of these documents relating to military developments in Afghanistan have been disseminated by Wikileaks so far. The contents of the remaining---many of which probably relate to diplomatic developments---- have not been disseminated so far. One does not know why.

11. The action of the junior US analyst in managing to have access to these data-bases and transferring their contents to his CDs shows how insecure the so-called secure data-bases are and how one could break into them. Instead of harassing and prosecuting the analyst, the US agencies should enter into a plea bargain with him by promising no action if he told them how he did this so that the US security agencies could plug the loopholes in their cyber security. ( 27-7-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )