Pakistan has remarkably free media. However, this freedom has been limited on a few subjects. Journalists would not touch the Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan during the ‘jihad’ against the Soviet occupation in a critical way, for example. It looked as if the ISI often was dictating the leaders on this subject in at least some of the important newspapers. As the WikiLeaks affair shows this still seems to be the case. Even ‘many journalists in Pakistan are on the payroll of various intelligence outfits’, how a courageous author put it. In this light, Ulrike Schulz and Karl Fischer(*) look at reactions on the Afghan WikiLeaks affair in Pakistan.
While the WikiLeaks revelations in a broader sense are contributing to preparing the US and Western public for the realities of a lost case in Afghanistan, many Pakistani analysts are angered by indications that Pakistan could be (once again) accused of not acting as a reliable ally in the US war against terrorism. This reaction has to be seen in the context of two aspects: (1) an India-centric threat and security perception in Pakistan and (2) what developments Pakistan expects in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US/international forces.
Both aspects indicate a national interest of Pakistan in cooperating with the Afghan Taliban as a “strategic asset” in order not to be sandwiched between enemy India in the East and an India-friendly Afghanistan in the West. In this context one can agree with political analyst Khaled Ahmed who wrote in the weekly Friday Times (25 June to 1 July issue, not on the internet): “Everyone in Pakistan knows that for the US, what is happening in Afghanistan is war against terrorism, but for Pakistan it is war against India”.
In the attempt to serve both purposes – work with the US and simultaneously support NATO’s adversaries in Afghanistan – Pakistan has landed itself in a quagmire of strategic confusion and seems unable to drag itself out by a painful process of self-introspection and strategic correction.
Evidence regarding ISI support for the Quetta Shura as well as direct contacts of serving and retired ISI officers with the Haqqani network and other Afghan insurgent groups has been widely published in the English-language media of Pakistan. Under present circumstances there is no reason to assume that such cooperation has been discontinued. However, it is understood that the Pakistani differentiation between good (Afghan) and bad (Pakistani) Taliban is bound to create tension and confusion in the ambivalent Pakistan-US relationship.
Pakistan’s foreign policy relating to India and Afghanistan is formulated and controlled by the military high command. Operationally the ISI continues to be entrusted with maintaining an effective working relationship with various groups involved in the Afghan insurgency, including some of the Taliban. According to comments in Pakistani media such cooperation includes training of jihadis as well as direct support by Pakistani military personnel and material and financial help. In this context reference is frequently made to a role of former ISI chief General Hamid Gul who is notorious for using every occasion to publicly support the Islamic jihad against the US and India and who is referred to in a number of the leaked documents.
Pakistan’s media present a broad spectrum of opinion close to the positions of the military or with a strong anti-US bias when it comes to the militancy and other developments in Afghanistan. Irfan Husain in an analysis carried by daily Dawn (‘Anchors, Spooks and Jihadis’, 22 May 2010) points out that ‘it is an open secret that many journalists in Pakistan are on the payroll of various intelligence outfits’ and he offers details. Interestingly, Husain mentions that whenever the army high command is annoyed or angered by US moves or publications and information leaks unfavorable to Pakistan, ‘the media brigade in support of the military’s position’ is quickly activated, thus exposing its ties and loyalties. He goes to the extent of accusing the intelligence agencies of using ‘journalists as pawns in their murky games’. Little wonder hell broke loose in the Pakistani media after the documents made public by WikiLeaks again pointed to the strong connections between the ISI and the Afghan Taleban.
In other words, the role the army and intelligence outfits have played in the political life of Pakistan is on public record. This role is known and even accepted by broad sections of society on the basis of the threat paranoia mentioned above. However, when such accusations are made abroad, in particular when they come from American sources, many Pakistanis immediately tend to see an Indian-Jewish-American complot being hatched against the national security and sovereignty of the state of Pakistan. For this very reason all careful attempts to bring Army and Intelligence Services under democratic control in the past have failed. For the foreseeable future we can not expect any change in this respect.
(*) Both authors have been based in Islamabad from 2004 to 2009. Dr. Karl Fischer is a former GDR ambassador to Pakistan and chief-of-staff of the UN Afghanistan mission UNSMA and has been following events in the sub-continent for some decades. He also has been the author of the AAN report ‘The AfPak Strategy: Reactions in Pakistan’, see here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020