The dauntingly large cache of documents detailing the increasing futility of war in Afghanistan doesn't deliver anything new... but gives cause for concern and puts the heat on the rather dubious ally, Pakistan.
The AfghanistanPapers – let’s call them AfPak - leaked this week were no Pentagon Papers of the Vietnam War era, but nevertheless they are quite capable of doing serious damage to the war effort in the Graveyard of Empires.
Forty years after the spectacular leak of papers which showed the United States political and military establishments were lying to its people over what was really going on in Vietnam, the AfPak drop at the very least begs the question of what the US and its allies are actually achieving in this eight-year-and-counting quagmire.
They are flitting away hundreds billions of dollars, losing a hideous number of soldiers, and killing Afghani civilians. Under their watch various Taliban factions are growing stronger by the day/week/month/year apparently with the help of certain elements within Pakistan – including supposed collaboration in an attempt on Hamid Karzai’s life- and for that, Pakistan gladly accepts billions of dollars in aid from the US.
Surely none of the above was the point of going to, or expanding war in Afghanistan.
What this massive drop of classified military information did was confirm much of what was already known. It confirms long held suspicions about the number of civilians killed although delivers more gory details about shooting up civilian busses and weddings, double dealing from crucial players within the Pakistani Intelligence Service, confirms a useless Afghan government/police/military force, all of which adds up to a seemingly hopeless strategy in Afghanistan. In short the cache of documents backs those many calls for tougher scrutiny of this war and perhaps a game plan.
The papers are raw and stripped of political/military spin. In that they make the get-out-of-jail (leave Afghanistan) card due to be put into action next year by various allies and the United States look increasingly troublesome, if not implausible.
Plan ‘B’ seems to not yet exist, but ramifications such as a deepening of division within the Democrats over approving billions more via the war-financing bill currently before the Senate could lay the ground for a plan to exit and cut losses.
The blunt message from the Afghan Files is that the war is faring badly…far worse than had been portrayed by military and political hierarchies. Much of that seems to be due to the Taliban/Militants being better armed than taxpayers who are mortgaging their futures had previously been informed.
There’s been much debate over the leak itself. The US military described it as appalling delivering material that should never have been made public. Why? Because it contradicted the official line?
There is no doubt that ‘WikiLeaks’ had the real deal in terms of actual battlefield reports, and despite the rather unpleasant smugness of the site’s founder Julian Assange – including his fanciful declaration that these are the new Pentagon Papers - there seems to have been much thought put in to what should be made public by Assange and the three international newspapers he gave the material to – the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel.
All four hold that they never published anything that would endanger the lives of any soldiers in combat. Of that we will never really know but they have refrained from publishing thousands of the 92,000 documents available.
They gave cause for a few hawks around the world to find a platform from which to all too predictably condemn them for publishing illegally obtained information, and from that you can deduce it was palpably close to the action.
Pakistan has decried the leaks claiming it is the real victim, its reputation now besmirched by documents completely out of context and unsubstantiated. Crocodile tears methinks.
Pakistan is arguably THE issue in all of this, and that’s where the focus should be. As a nuclear nation, its tight relationship with influential quarters within the Taliban may be built primarily on mutual distrust, but these documents scream as to the fact of such a relationship, and that is deadly worrying.
The United States has a big problem in terms of its Pakistan policy, and perhaps now the Obama Administration will have garnered more of an understanding from the public about the dilemma it has inherited. Sure, Obama now has his stamp on the Afghanistan War, but he’s had precious little ability to do much about Pakistan, no matter how helpful India may offer to be on that front!
In the last seven months the US has been overt in its acknowledgement that Pakistan has now taken the whole Afghanistanproblem more seriously. No doubt because the Taliban has seriously threatened Pakistani territories, namely Waziristan, and Pakistan has paid its own major cost in human casualties, all of which the leaked AfPak papers predated that.
So what does Obama do? Cutting the aid line to Islamabad is bound to have hugely negative reactions in terms of the attitude of that government and its agencies, especially if there is some truth in the new diplomatic understanding. Punishing Pakistancould also lead to that country further hedging its bets with the enemy for fear the American-led commitment will not be followed to the bitter end, whatever the end-game now is. Girls in schools? Taliban-free? Tamed Taliban? Competent Afghani Government? Corruption-free Afghanistan/Pakistan? Who knows….
The papers do of course make poignant note that the reason to wage war in the first place has disappeared. Osama bin Laden – the new ‘Where’s Wally’ is nowhere to be found…and much is made of that…and the best guess is that he and his mates have left Afghanistan for more pleasant digs. Well more secure digs.
That of course must turn the spotlight on bin Laden’s native Yemen, and former home in Somalia. Anywhere but Afghanistan it seems, but there’s no way the world will witness a new war on terror in either of these places.
And there’s the rub. The number of militants thought to still be operating in Afghanistan is surprisingly low, yet the US-led allies have increased dramatically the soldiers sent to fight them. What they have earned for that is an increasing tally of body bags.
If that leads to an overwhelming public outcry, then the WikiLeaks guru may have a strange little victory in terms of playing a part in fueling public skepticism to the point it becomes politically intolerable to stay in this particular theatre of war.
Peering through the fog however, it has to be said at this stage the AfPak Papers tell us pretty much what we already knew, but add more examples in an uncut version, and further implicate Iran in a relationship with the Taliban.
Elements within the military will be worried about the nature of some of the information in terms of operations but will hardly detail those concerns. At this point you wouldn’t bet Granny’s life on Pakistan being as loyal as it professes nor Karzai’s ability to run a clean ship; the body count – civilian and military - will increase; it’ll cost billions more; the public will lose the will to continue the fight; eventually the US led coalition will pull out; Osama bin Laden will die – probably of natural causes.