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WikiLeaks and beyond

August 1, 2010 5 comments

You’d have to have been utterly uninformed if you didn’t notice the storm created by WikiLeaks over the past week in connection with the leaking of some 92,000 classified documents pertaining, among others also to the war in Afghanistan, what the United States terms as the war on terror! Almost everyone in the American administration seems to have an opinion on this, while calling for a systematic effort to comb the intelligence community in a desperate attempt to seal the leak, which is feared to have wider and longstanding implications, so much so as threatening the lives of many American people and their allies, while also seriously compromising their interests at home and beyond!

Come to think of it, founder Julian Assange and team, of WikiLeaks, have not been working really hard to obtain this so called tonnage of information, most of which are already in public domain and knowledge, far from the absolutely classified or top secret types anyone would expect. While the media lapped up the story, publicizing it to no ends and thereby creating a sensation that would perhaps be equivalent to a high-profile assassination, experts are yet to be surprised by this episode, which has now come to be recognized as a fiasco, one that has most certainly been a deliberate inside effort, well-timed to achieve a certain set objective, more so, at the connivance of the American administration and the intelligence community itself! Sharing the beliefs of many experts, several officials within the United States government are also of the opinion that the disclosure by WikiLeaks was a well planned process, aided by none other than senior functionaries within the intelligence community of America, at the insistence of, of course, the top brass of the American administration. Wayne Madsen, formerly with the US Navy and the US National Security Agency (NSA), now a popular blogger, investigative journalist, author and columnist, is known to have told a friend that the disclosure by WikiLeaks is a controlled leak process aided and used by the United States Government run entirely through intelligence networks.

Having spent a great deal of time glossing over the WikiLeaks website, in the past few days, I find that the information so mentioned or offered as part of the leak discloses nothing so significant or shocking, and is certainly not something not already known before. The packet deal consists very little apart from America’s knowledge of Pakistan’s ISI and it’s complicity with various outlawed factions in aiding state sponsored terrorism and the likes, nuances pertaining to the war on terror, notes on NATO operations, and field reports that have been systematically fed into a central repository over a period of time for collation and analysis!

It is widely believed that the source behind the WikiLeaks story is PFC Bradley Manning, a former US Army Intelligence Analyst, detained for allegedly “transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system” and “communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source.” Manning is also believed to have said that diplomatic documents, in his possession, expose “almost criminal political back dealings” and that they explain “how the first world exploits the third, in detail.” Stating that he hoped the release of matter within his possession would lead to “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms,” he reportedly wrote, “everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed.” While WikiLeaks has itself condemned actions initiated against Manning, it has so far refused to confirm or deny Manning as having been a source in the recently conducted disclosure, stating that it has a policy not to name it’s sources citing strict measures of confidence! In a twist following the initial refusal to confirm or deny it’s believed source, WikiLeaks founder and presently it’s editor-in-Chief, Julian Assange claimed that neither he nor his organization had any knowledge of the identity of the person who sent them the classified material, stating that the website itself was created in order to hide the source of it’s data from those who receive it.

This is however not the first time that WikiLeaks has come up with matters of disclosures that it claimed will stun the world, exposing the many cover ups being systematically undertaken by government and administrative officials. Ranging from Standard Operating Procedures of Guantanamo Bay to the membership list of the ultra-right wing British National Party, confidential reports of the United Nations, secret Congressional Research Service reports, intercepts pertaining to the 9/11 incident, reports related to dumping of toxic waste materials in Africa, Oil scandals in Peru and several other interesting material, the leaks of documents pertaining to the American war on terror in Afghanistan is among the many such instances, with the exception of it’s sensitivity considering how high this probably came from! These reports, ranging from the period of 2004 until 2009, detail incidents including friendly fire and civilian casualties, as a result of the various operations conducted within Afghanistan. Also, among the documents leaked are reports that American officials in Afghanistan strongly suspected Pakistan’s actions supporting Taliban militants while on the other hand, accepting huge amounts of American aid. Although publicly known, it is believed that these documents could fuel growing doubts within the US Congress about President Obama’s strategy on the war on terror and it’s effectiveness as American death toll continues to rise.

Interestingly, while the White House, along with senior government bodies in the United States has repeatedly termed this episode as an action constituting the breach of federal law, there has been no talk of any actions against WikiLeaks itself, while only an appeal not to publish any more sensitive material that maybe available in it’s custody! When asked if WikiLeaks could face criminal action, Pentagon officials have simply stated in what appears to be an evasive answer that “historically the leakers have been the ones targeted for criminal prosecution and not those who merely publish the information.” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said “I don’t know what’s going to happen here. This is a whole new world that we are entering into where an organization without any editorial judgment, beholden to nobody, is soliciting classified information from people all over the world and then publishing it, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer but people are going to have to make judgments about whether there are legal ramifications for soliciting a criminal act.”

In the aftermath of what is being seen as a sensational episode of disclosure, the US President will face a very tough task of convincing the congress to continue funding the war on terror. These disclosures, which have portrayed the on goings of the war on terror in a finer detail, often highlighting the failure of the administration in containing the many threats associated to the exercise, have come at a very crucial time. Because of undying difficulties on the ground and increasing casualty rates, a raging debate over the continued American presence in Afghanistan has begun much earlier than expected. It is believed that within the administration, more and more officials are turning skeptics and privately questioning the American policy towards the war on terror. Elsewhere within the US Congress, leaders are preparing to hold a vote on a very important bill related to financing the war on terror amidst fears that the leaks could incite opposition on the administration’s policies from even within the Democrats. Also geared to be chaired is a Senate panel aimed to hold a hearing on President Obama’s choice to head the military’s central command, Gen James Mattis, who will oversee military operations in Afghanistan. It is widely believed that the documents, released by WikiLeaks, will make it harder for President Obama as he strives to garner public and Congressional support until the end of the year, when he has scheduled a review of the war effort.

So given all of these complications already present and soon escalating, one wonders why there should have been an administrative level complicity in the disclosures made by WikiLeaks, for there seems to be no valid reason why the administration would endanger it’s own position in front of the American people and the Congress! Logically, there cannot be an answer to this unless it is a well concerted plan of the current US administration aimed to facilitate a withdrawal from Afghanistan! Maybe the government conveniently authorized this leak and aided it at the highest possible levels well aware of the furore it would create and therefore pave way for it’s exit from Afghanistan with the least possible political damage while stating the obvious that the war is intensifying in a manner that even the most efficiently coordinated efforts will pale in the face of escalating terror and continuance in such a situation will only drain American resources, lives and cost! An already edgy and driven Congress will be ‘made to understand’ the facts without ever the need for any elaborate explanations and testifying, all thanks to such a grand scale of leaks! With the international media spending such a considerable amount of time and effort in scrutinizing the war on terror in extensive detail, the task of the administration has lessened even more to a comfortable level of being able to convince the world of how unfruitful the pursuit of freedom or peace in Afghanistan can be! And for the general public, overwhelmed by the frantic pace of reporting by news channels over this so called sensationally humongous leak, I doubt if many would even understand that this mass cache of documents mean anything to the point of being able to be understood.

Therefore, how convenient and cooperative an effort by WikiLeaks and the Government of the United States!

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Karzai or Abdullah? Who will emerge front-runner in the Afghan elections?

Amidst sporadic violence, reports of armed coercion, bribery, election fraud, voter cards being sold, irregularities and a low voter turnout, Afghanistan has gone to the polls for the second time, to elect a President, in an exercise that was closely watched by the United Nations, the United States, neighbouring countries and independent agencies. Officials of NATO stated that approximately 15.6 million voters had registered to vote. The number, which amounts to half of the nations population, is staggering considering the turbulent phases in time that the country has witnessed despite the Taliban having been ousted many years ago.

Under the regime of Hamid Karzai, a great deal had progressed in a difficult and tense environment constantly watched over and viewed as a breeding ground for international terrorism, however, the strangulating influence of the Taliban was witnessed many a times, in the form of many skirmishes between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rebels, the former of which is now largely reduced to combat personnel of the United States alone, other member nations having gradually pulled out of the arrangement, sensing a long drawn combat operation which faced flak for being frustrating, costly and severely life threatening to military personnel.

Although the government machinery has largely been overhauled, the Afghan mindset largely remains unaltered and battling warlords still call the shots in what is more of a deeply divided nation which is clearly demarcated by ethnicity, caste and muscle power, all of which seems extensively prevalent over a social structure which is precariously balanced and hinges even now upon its disturbed past. The Afghan state is embroiled in many distinct identities, no one of which can claim superiority or dominance alone or for that matter a certain extended period of time. Cooperation and coordination are words unheard of where negotiations and truce face obsolescence even before implementation.

This time, the theater saw heavy weights in the form of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent President and Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister in the fray for the top job amidst many political twists and turns that may have affected one another in their attempt to woo a population that has long been tormented by unrest and turmoil, for the duration of all or most of their tumultuous lives. Karzai on his part seems to have been no lesser of an immoral by virtue of his proximity to what the United States calls dreaded warlords responsible for a chaotic Afghanistan. It is alleged that both of Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and a number of his key allies in the election were responsible for many instances of human rights violations and war crimes. The independent body, Human Rights Watch has called for Vice President Karim Khalili and key ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes. Khalili is alleged to have been responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

Prominent and conspicuous among the events, was the return from-exile of  General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who once held the post of Chief of Army Staff to President Karzai. Arriving from Turkey, where he was exiled for allegedly manhandling a political rival, he created headlines by pledging support for Karzai and campaigning for him, a move widely seen as an effort to send a tough message to erring warlords and thereby win their support. Gen Dostum was also a key ally of the United States in the 2001 invasion, following the attacks on the world trade center.

Political analysts insist that all this hobnobbing with local militia and warlords was indeed a strategy employed by the Karzai camp to secure large blocs of votes in return for key positions and influence in his new government or other significant promises. One may also recall his invitation to the dreaded Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to become his Vice President, when his attacks on government troops became systematically orchestrated and unstoppable.

Abdullah, on the other hand with a clean and suave image has certainly managed to dent Karzai’s fortunes to an extent, prompting officials to believe that the race may be more closely tied than expected, exacting a possibility of a run-off in October if neither party manages to garner the required 50% mark. While Abdullah may represent a different paradigm for a nation troubled by war, poverty, unrest and ethnic divisions, Karzai certainly has an upper hand in the battle given his close connections that can translate to more votes and the ability to nudge perpetually warring splinter groups to pledge support in unison although they may do so with reluctance. Given Abdullah’s surprise over the scale of alleged fraud in counting of the votes, one can sense a disconnect in his ability to control and monitor situations in the ground, something which Karzai surely has more knowledge and control of.

Apparently the United States is not very happy with the developments in Afghanistan, whose military and security responsibility lies with it. Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy to Afghanistan has, in a meeting with President Karzai, expressed fears and concerns over reports of election fraud, something that Karzai has not taken too well coming from the United States.

Latest indications suggest that Karzai is pegged at 45% of votes, amounting to 422,000 while Abdullah has garnered 35% votes at 330,000 in number. Reports now indicate that the finally tally may be delayed a while.

While the world waits and watches, it will be interesting to follow the United States and the international community in their policies towards the Afghan nation. More importantly, it will be exciting to deduce and subsequently watch India’s stand considering the possibilities. Karzai and his administration enjoy a warm relationship with India, and so also is the case with Dr. Abdullah.

So what is it that will change in the Afghan heartland? September will tell, presumably!

The menace of the Taliban

Bill Casey and Gen Zia Ul Huq would have had a lot of questions to answer had they been alive, particularly uncomfortable ones at that! Casey, in all probably, might have wanted to forget that he ever made the “We will know that we have succeeded when everything the public believes is false” statement. Success in falsehood have since come to haunt Pakistan and the NWFP ever since, with the creation and proliferation of the ominous Taliban which have dented the United States with the 9/11 incident and continue to bog them down along with their Pakistani counterparts elsewhere in Afghanistan, not to forget the significant damage they continue to wreck upon the ever turbulent Islamic republic of Pakistan!

The war on terror is far from over and the Taliban is anything but defeated with the United States shaping one strategy or another, inclusive of conditional aid to Pakistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta can afford to think aloud about Bin-Laden’s whereabouts but that is not getting him any closer to nabbing the world’s most wanted notorious element of terror soon! Repeated drone-aided pounding of the Af-Pak region in the hopes of distancing and dismantling the Taliban is obviously not proving to yield any desired results, and, on the contrary is making the place more deadly and volatile than ever before.

What is lacking on the part of the United States is a well coordinated HUMINT effort along with their Pakistani supports to understand the ground level situation and counter the same. Presently, a great deal of resources and efforts are being directed towards TECHINT efforts which are yet to bring results to the table. Worse still, the repeated uncoordinated attacks initiated by the United States Army in the region are causing more of the locals to join hands with the Taliban in what they see as an infidel violation of their scared land. If anything, this is making the US Army sweat more in the deadlock of not being able to reign in the fighters who have better knowledge of the terrain, much to the chagrin of their Corps Commanders and bosses ensconced in Washington. Observers in Washington couldn’t be more naive than providing repeated financial assistance to the government of Pakistan as part of what they call a systematic effort to fight the war on terror.

What is urgently needed is that the United States coordinate with the Pakistani Army in engaging in joint operations to first sanitize the regions and free it from the warring brigades of Taliban and help establish outposts that are jointly manned and protected. This ensures that the scourge does not spill over to other parts of Pakistan. Secondly, the ultra porous border that Pakistan shares with its neighbor Afghanistan needs urgent monitoring and securing. Though this may seem a marathon task, which it certainly is, it can be attained with the help of UAVs that can be deployed to track the movement of people across the border. Detachments need to be posted at strategic points to monitor people crossing over and their supply routes need to be checked from time to time, thereby preventing mass trafficking of weapons and other war material. However, before any concrete action is taken on this front, the United States needs to ensure that the ISI is not actually aiding separatist factions by supplying them weapons and resources which find safe cover in many madarassas and local safe houses belonging to chieftains in the area.

The Pakistani President’s recent statement that the nation is committed to fight the Taliban has been one of the many that has been repeated from time to time given the instances of terrorism that continue to plague the region. An informed observer would assign very insignificant importance to such echoes that are meant only for the comfort of the prying ears in Washington and the International Community. The truth is that Pakistan now stands at the brink of collapse given the rapidly escalating situation, if it not were to take any concrete measures to arrest the proliferation of the Taliban. And then, there is always the looming danger of nuclear weapons in Pakistan falling into the hands of terror elements, such an act capable of bringing unspeakable disaster to surrounding nations, India in particular!

Now that the Taliban is regrouping in nations such as Yemen and Somalia, where governments have been weak for sometime now, the threat of multi-locational terror operations being staged over a huge geography suddenly seems very real! Fighting an adept enemy who has no permanent base of operations along with the advantage of being highly mobile and possessive of a fluid structure could prove very costly to the United States and Pakistan.

I’m wondering if, in hindsight, some people ponder over the mistake they have made in creating a Frankenstein  which has now grown significantly, both, in numbers and in ideology!

Is this another classic illustration of the cause and effect theory?

Pak lets JUD chief Saeed walk away!

While the Obama administration in the United States may call the release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed disturbing, it was very expected of Pakistan, which, in this case, is known for what it does second best – reneging on its promises without any concrete reasons whatsoever, the first being careful and systematic orchestration of state sponsored acts of terror.

Pakistan has for a long time now, with the aid of its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, aided radical elements such as the Taliban and a dozen or more others that have been founded on the Kashmir / Anti-India agenda. The elected government, following its predecessor’s alignment with the United States on the War on Terror, maintains that Taliban style radical elements are a severe threat to itself more than any other sovereign. However, the inside story is hideously contradictory!

Several branches from within the Pakistan Army and the ISI continue to regularly collaborate with fundamental elements not only in the perpetration of violence but also in the drug trade which has flourished across the North western Frontier Province (NFWP), thanks to Afghanistan’s vast poppy expanses! It is interesting to note that despite the War on Terror, the United States is yet to announce a concrete program on the War on Drugs in the Af-Pak region, one that is a stark departure from its current policies in the Latin American region.

Knowing very well that the recently concluded Indian elections have ushered in a different climate in the country, and that the heat surrounding the 26/11 incident has died down across the political corridors in New Delhi, Pakistan has now chosen to honor what seems to be a premeditated promise to release elements detained as part of the Mumbai attacks episode. This proves beyond doubt that Pakistan had no intention to collaborate with Indian in bringing the criminals to justice. Merely coming under pressure from India and the United States, it did a sham act of detaining the JUD leader until such time that the nuances of the Mumbai incident would be forgotten. And when the opportune moment presented itself, the government of Pakistan let Saeed go, stating that the case against him was too weak to mandate his arrest. This despite India repeatedly providing unquestionable evidence to Pakistan which clearly indicates that key LeT personnel such as Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a close aide of Saeed, were in direct contact with the Mumbai attackers! Saeed’s statement denying Ajmal Amir Kasab’s links with the JUD is blatantly untrue and is most likely the echo of what the Pakistan interior ministry has told him to throw at the press during the time of his release!

One can therefore conclude beyond doubt that Pakistan not only desires to abstain from cooperating with India in investigating the Mumbai attacks, but has also clearly been the perpetrator of the attacks itself! What else could explain the negligent attitude towards the evidence submitted and now the release of the man who was acknowledged to be the mastermind behind the attacks?

The American Government can do little but issue statements of exclamation at this act, especially considering the prevailing warm bonhomie between the US State Department and the machinery in Pakistan which thrives because of an anti-India agenda. Besides, the United States, by virtue of accepting Pakistan as a ‘committed’ partner in the war on Terror, can do little to persuade the latter to aid India in the Mumbai investigation and many many others!

As a show of support, the US Administration continues to shower Pakistan with huge financial aides meant to augment the Anti-Terror campaign, while being fully aware that a large chunk of these goodies are systematically diverted to a long list of recipients proximate to the ISI.

The perpetually hawkish State Department and its anti-India stance is very well known, as has been witnessed for a few decades now! Richard Holbrooke can do a lot of nay saying in the media concerning this episode, but that does not change the situation in the ground which involves the complicity of the ISI and several other radical factions in their devious agenda of perpetrating terror in the NWFP region, making it, easily, one of the most dangerous places on Earth!