At first glance it appeared that the smoking gun had finally been found. That was certainly the initial impression when, on July 25, Internet whistleblower site WikiLeaks posted official documents claiming extensive Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But, as the dust has gradually settled, surprisingly little appears to have changed.
Undoubtedly, tensions between Pakistan and its closest ally have risen, albeit in an unlikely fashion. Although the White House described the revelations as ‘unacceptable,’ Britain—not the US—has borne the brunt of Pakistan’s frustrations following British Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticism of the garrison state for apparently playing a double game, with Pakistan ceasing key intelligence sharing with the United Kingdom in response.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
With Cameron’s comments having come hot on the heels of his visit to the United States, there’s been speculation that he was merely delivering a message on behalf of Washington. But if this is the case, then Pakistan’s decision to momentarily end intelligence sharing with Britain sends a message to the White House too—that Pakistan remains the pivotal guarantor of a credible US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
So what do the WikiLeaks disclosures mean for the future of Pakistan’s engagement with the US, and, by extension, its role in Afghanistan?
Although the documents actually held few surprises, the extent to which they confirmed so many existing suspicions about the troubled war in Afghanistan was indeed a defining moment. It’s difficult to determine the veracity of most of the claims about Pakistani support for the insurgency, if only because the primary sources for the most explosive allegations are either Afghan agents or Afghanistan’s intelligence services. These include claims that retired Inter Services Intelligence chief Hamid Gul, a 74-year-old who left the post nearly two decades ago, was personally working with al-Qaeda and the Taliban to arrange attacks on US-led forces. Another report claims an ISI hand in an attempt to poison beer supplies to Western troops.
Yet although the ethnic Tajik-dominated National Directorate of Security is notoriously anti-Pakistan, the fact that both foreign powers and many Afghans believe Pakistan is assisting the Taliban is itself still significant—and the fact that the US has remained closely bound to Pakistan’s military despite this perception is arguably even more significant.
Setting aside any uncertainties over the documents, though, some obvious conclusions can be reached. For a start, the war is clearly not going well for US-led forces in Afghanistan, and if the United States is seeking Pakistani assistance at a time when it really does feel Pakistan is supporting the insurgency, then clearly it’s not fighting from a position of strength.