July 27, 2010

Wikileaks - Dateline Pakistan

In Pakistan, news of Wikileaks's Afghan cache is officially being seen as an affront to Pakistan's dignity/more lies/a general anti-Pakistan conspiracy etc etc. My favourite reaction is from an ISI man who tells the Guardian's Declan Walsh:

"It's very strange such a huge cache of information can be leaked to the media so conveniently," he said. "Is it something deliberate? What is its purpose? We'll be looking into that."

It would have been really interesting to find out how the ISI would "look into that". But, unfortunately, he doesn't go into it.

But Pakistan is much complex in it's opinions than you might gather from the odd official one-line riposte. For a more nuanced view, and one - that in my experience of speaking to people from various walks of life - is much more reflective of the everyday conversations that people have away from a TV camera or reporters' notebook, read Mosharraf Zaidi's op-ed in the Daily News.

"Wikileaks' purpose in releasing these files has nothing to do with Pakistan, or India, or Afghanistan. Its purpose is to expose the incompetence, myopia and failure of the US-led war in Afghanistan. Wikileaks is an anti-war organisation. This means that the expose is not a part of any kind of campaign against Pakistan. If Pakistan looks bad in the crossfire of domestic American politics surrounding the Afghan war, that's Pakistan's bad.

"Over time, the space provided by an ineffective Pakistani state has helped the ISI occupy in western minds, what the Mossad and CIA represent in the Muslim world: a convenient red-herring to explain the complexities, difficulties and unpleasantness of war and diplomacy in a post-9/11 world."

And my favourite part:

"Western conspiracy theories about Pakistan's evil double-cross in Afghanistan don't need to be rooted in absolute truth, just a scant kernel of the truth will often do. In that way, it is once again eminently clear that talk of a "clash of civilisations" is garbage. It turns out that human beings are the same everywhere."

But don't rely on my pull-out quotes; read the whole thing.

UPDATE: OK, i might be ruining Mosharraf's subtlety here by explicitly drawing attention to it, but I think it's too good a point to risk being lost on a quick-scan read: Pakistan's obsession with conspiracy theories are a comfort blanket used to avoid thinking about uncomfortable realities. In the same way, the US and its allies concentration on blaming the ISI also provides a comfort blanket.

"There is much comfort in finding Pakistan and the ISI under every rock and IED in Afghanistan. The small kernels of truth that enable ISI conspiracy theories are a matter for Pakistanis to take seriously and address. But they also help the US and its allies in Afghanistan avoid the uncomfortable reality of Obama's Afghan war. This is a war that does not have a happy ending for anyone. This is a war that has made America, Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan less safe."