Here we go again! - Ikram Sehgal - Thursday, July 29, 2010

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In another major attack on Pakistan's credibility as a responsible entity among the comity of nations, among the 92,000 secret US documents about the Afghan war leaked to the media by WikiLeak, a number of reports accused Pakistan's premier intelligence agency of being in collusion with the Taliban. The "war logs" also alleged ISI involvement in plots to kill President Hamid Karzai as well as planning strategy for attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Independent analysts warned that most of the intelligence material was of questionable value, coming from sources inimical to Pakistan.

Clearly fabricated, inconsistent and certainly not verified, it was not surprising that most emanated from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's premier intelligence agency, which was taken over lock, stock and barrel by India's RAW when the Northern Alliance came to power.

As director general of the ISI in the late 1980s, Lt Gen (Retd) Hameed Gul was actively working with the CIA in aiding the Taliban. His views are well known and have not really changed. His extreme stance is presently at variance with the moderate nature of the "great silent majority" of Pakistanis. One does not agree with him on any number of issues, however one does respect his integrity and patriotism. To suggest that he would support the Taliban actively in any way, particularly when the army that he loves and served with distinction is at war with them, is, in his own words, "preposterous."

There is a radical difference between the ISI that existed during the Afghan war and the ISI that exists today. Clandestine organisation like the ISI, the CIA, MI-5 and the former KGB, of necessity operate in grey areas. But that any would work against the best interests of the state is ridiculous. The Pakistani army shields Pakistan from its enemies, the ISI provides the outer shield for Pakistan and the army. Our enemies' motives in their constant attacks on the ISI are well known: reduce the shield and you compromise the security and integrity of Pakistan.

The documents leaked by WikiLeak include details of war crimes by US and coalition forces and the involvement of Karzai's family in drug smuggling, yet these got only cursory media attention. Nowhere in the 92,000 documents does there seem to be any mention of India, good or bad. One may well ask: why this golden silence on India? True to form, the Afghan presidential spokesman, Waheed Omar, studiously focused on Pakistan, saying the "documents could help raise awareness on the sanctuaries Islamabad provides for militant groups." That about sums up Afghanistan's hostility to Pakistan and its ingratitude for all the sacrifices Pakistan has made (and is making) for Afghanistan. Only the week before, the Pakistani government had signed a memorandum of understanding under which the Afghans will receive most-favoured free access to Pakistani ports as well as to roads/railways communications infrastructure.

It is time our foreign policy to discover self-respect. One is forced to use language that is not diplomatic: till they learn to shut up and keep shut, we should allow only food essentials for Afghanistan to transit through Pakistan, and nothing else. As regards transit facilities for India to Afghanistan, either through Karachi port or Wagah, somebody in our government needs to get their head examined for even agreeing to talk about it. We do not need Afghanistan, they need us.

The US has forcefully condemned the leaks as harmful to their national security interests. However, there is a hint of a "wink" and a "nod" to put Pakistan under further pressure "to do none." One has great respect for Admiral Mike Mullen. What he has achieved in calming the suspicions and fears of our armed forces is remarkable but this doublespeak in the US establishment is shocking. One is heartened by comments by US lawmakers who have taken into account the tremendous sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces in dealing with the militants. They rightly say that the leaks do not represent facts as they exist on the ground today.

Richard Haass, chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations appeared on a show (hosted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria) to announce blithely that Pakistan allows Al-Qaeda to roam about freely in Pakistan and manipulates Afghanistan in its designs against India. While Indian Muslim Fareed Zakaria (an original "Uncle Tom") has a vested interest in showing himself as being more loyal than the king, these accusations were mind-boggling. We are the ones suffering most at the hands of Al-Qaeda and, to correct Haass, just look at the geography. It is the other way around: it is India that manipulates Afghanistan for its own purposes against Pakistan.

With experience in the White House working with both the younger and elder Bush, Haass was an insider in the making of decisions affecting millions. In his Essay "Dilemma of Dissent," Haass disclosed that "very frequently the rulers and their close aides made important (decisions) without proper enquiry, analysis or debate." Those facilitating such decision-making Haass calls "enablers." One way to avoid becoming an "enabler" was to resign. That unfortunately requires a conscience. Richard Haass became an "enabler" rather than risk "being ignored or overruled."

Bluntly put, many American soldiers and Iraqis across the board have died (and are dying) because people like Haass wanted to stay within the reaches of power. If any order is unlawful, further action is a matter of morality. People like Haass sacrificed morality at the altar of their own careers. To quote from my article "Defining Character" published on May 28, 2009: "Richard Haass may be brilliant, he is also a self-confessed intellectually dishonest person." Yet, people like Haass proliferate in the upper reaches of US decision-making and can rule the airwaves to spread false perceptions.

Perception is nine-tenths of media law. To quote from my recent article "Pie in the sky": "Propaganda is a deliberate attempt to persuade people by any available media to think and then behave in a manner desired by the source, it is really the means to an end. There could be individual Taliban sympathisers in the ranks of Pakistan's intelligence agencies and other official circles, but to say that Pakistan provides concerted institutional support…is nonsense, it demeans not only the blood that our soldiers have shed fighting the Taliban but that of our innocent civilians also."

As a coherent platform for our national security strategy, our present media policy is quite impractical and is tilted inwards, rather than being focussed externally. The stakes are high, a comprehensive media strategy must incorporate the new ground realities and must project Pakistan abroad by coalescing and force-multiplying the talent and potential of the private sector. The attacks on the army and the ISI have grave national repercussions for us, and they will happen again and again unless we do something.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

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