No matter how different observers have reacted to the massive dumping of classified documents by WikiLeaks on Sunday, one of the themes garnering the most attention was that of connections between the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). As many have pointed out since Sunday evening this is hardly news (though The Atlantic’s James Fallows argues that, in fact, it is), it is startling to see primary source accounts of possible meetings and even operational planning and coordination between our ostensible ally and our enemies in South Asia.
Still, for the moment commentary from Pakistan has been limited, and nuanced interpretations of the data even more limited. One exception to this is Pakistani blogger Mosharraf Zaidi, who often provides a refreshingly honest, intelligent foil to much of the reporting on Pakistani issues in the Western press. Zaidi has an interesting take on what WikiLeaks does and does not reveal about Pakistan. This section in particular stood out to me:
Virtually no serious commentator or analyst anywhere, even those embedded deep in the armpit of the Pakistani establishment, claims that the Pakistani state was not instrumental in the creation, training and sustenance of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Given the nature of the relationship between the Pakistani state and the Afghan Taliban, one that goes right to the genetic core of the Taliban, it is hard to imagine that all ties can ever be severed. Again, for serious people, this is an issue that is done and dusted. Pakistan’s state, and indeed, its society, had, has and will continue to have linkages with the Afghan Taliban. Moral judgments about these linkages are external to this fact.
These linkages do, however, deserve the scrutiny of the Pakistani parliament. If somehow, Pakistanis are involved in supporting any kind of violence against anyone, that kind of support had better be couched in a clear national security framework that articulates why it is okay for Pakistanis to underwrite such violence. Absent such a framework, the violence is illegal, and the space for speculation and innuendo about Pakistan is virtually infinite. It is that space that Pakistan’s fiercest critics exploit when they generate massive headlines out of small nuggets of insignificant and stale information that implicates Pakistan in anti-US violence in Afghanistan (among other things).
This kind of statement has real policy consequences for the United States, and reinforces the need to understand the Pakistani government’s attitude towards extremist groups and their utility. But it is equally necessary to understand the attitudes of average Pakistanis towards extremism, violence, how their government behaves, and even who Pakistanis perceive to be their real friends and adversaries. This kind of knowledge can inform our approach to Pakistan and South Asia as a whole, from how we deploy our military, to how we give aid, and how we communicate our policies to Pakistanis.
On Thursday July 29, the New America Foundation will host the public launch of the Pew Research Center’s new Global Attitudes Project poll of Pakistani attitudes towards a wide variety of issues. The data will be presented by Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut, with a discussion to follow between Kohut and New America Foundation President Steve Coll. If you are in Washington and would like to attend, please RSVP here. The event will also be livestreamed here at The Washington Note.
– Andrew Lebovich