What Wikileaks Teaches About Misinformation & Rogue Elements

July 28, 2010

The ongoing media hype about classified documents being published on the website Wikileaks.org may prove to be the exact outcome the leaker intended. According to intelligence company Stratfor, “all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below.” What is being discussed is not revelatory information, but the act of the leak.

In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war. No one is saying the war is going well, though some say that given time it might go better.

The data dump posted by Wikileaks includes 92,000 pages of documents, but does it contain a selection of documents sufficient to provide a comprehensive view of the reality on the ground? According to The New York Times, the answer is no.

Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.

This would put this material in the same category as that which was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq – raw intelligence documents that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a weapons of mass destruction program.

In previous Administrations, such data had been made available to under-secretaries only after it was analyzed, usually in the specially secured offices of INR. The whole point of the intelligence system in place, according to Thielmann, was “to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled.” Bolton, however, wanted his aides to receive and assign intelligence analyses and assessments using the raw data. In essence, the under-secretary would be running his own intelligence operation, without any guidance or support. “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get C.I.A. information directly,” Thielmann said.

Following news reports such as the one cited above, this practice – selectively choosing raw intelligence that supports a predetermined policy position or strategy – was widely condemned by the very people who now accept without a moment’s critical thought the documents that have been posted on Wikileaks.

These documents do not provide any new or enlightening information. Moreover, the fact that the collection of leaked documents is composed of selective raw intelligence suggests that even the information that is contained therein is untrustworthy.

Assertions that the leak was orchestrated by the Pentagon, a conspiracy that was bound to surface, doesn’t hold much water. The episode has been embarrassing for the Pentagon and the White House alike, and does nothing to serve official US policy in the region.

But it’s not unheard of for an individual official or group of officials to contravene official policy in pursuit of counter goals. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers are, of course, the obvious example. But more recent claims by Bradley Manning, a military intelligence analyst who bragged to another computer hacker that he had stolen over 260,000 classified documents and sent them to Wikileaks, suggest that technology combined with the fact that over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret security clearances has made such acts even more likely.

Similarly, it is no secret that individuals in Pakistan like former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul continue to support jihadi terrorist groups. These pro-jihadi elements also continue to aggressively attack the democratically-elected government in Pakistan in hopes of replacing it with a regime that is sympathetic to the Taliban.

Despite the volume of documents leaked, they represent only a small and relatively uninformative peek into what the US knows about terrorist groups in South Asia. Because the information is classified to protect the lives of Americans and Pakistanis in harms way, the American and Pakistani governments are not at liberty to merely release the rest of the information to set the record straight.

But they shouldn’t have to. As an obvious media stunt intended to embarrass both the American and Pakistani governments, this episode serves only to help anti-democratic jihadi groups. Ironically, however, by acting outside his official duties and contravening official government policy to leak these documents, the perpetrator actually demonstrates that rogue elements within the ISI are not following official Pakistani government policy when they offer any support to jihadi groups.

New York Times' Problematic Pakistan Coverage: Politicians and the "Tax Gap"

July 22, 2010

Pakistan's Tax Gap

Getting people to pay their taxes is a problem as old as taxes themselves. Even Jesus caused controversy by having dinner with Zacchaeus the tax collector – a hated man in his community. So it should probably come as no real surprise that Pakistan, like all nations, has a sizeable tax gap – the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid.

New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise puts the blame squarely on the politicians, saying that the nation’s dysfunctional tax system is “mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country’s richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves.”

That is an incorrect characterization.

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New York Times' Problematic Pakistan Coverage: "Fake Degrees"

July 19, 2010

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in Pakistan announcing $500 million in new civilian aid projects, the New York Times has been reproducing misleading narratives from Pakistan’s political opposition. Over the next few days, I’ll be responding to the most egregious of these stories in order to correct the record, provide much-needed context for American readers, and, hopefully, inspire the journalists at the Times to more adequately fact-check their reports on Pakistan while being mindful of possible political influence underlying their stories.

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Benefits of a Civilian Nuclear Power Deal

July 12, 2010

Civilian nuclear energy

One of the more interesting recommendations of the recent RAND report, Counterinsurgency in Pakistan, is the development of a civilian nuclear power program for Pakistan. Pursuing a civilian nuclear power program for Pakistan makes sense, and could provide significant improvement in regional security, civilian infrastructure and perceptions of American intent.

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The History that Haunts Us

July 6, 2010

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif)

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif) addressing a gathering of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA)

I was struck this morning by an editorial in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “America & dictators.” I was taken aback not because the editorial was criticizing my country, but because it served as a reminder of the history of supporting undemocratic regimes that haunts us, and the vital importance of addressing it openly.

Though our memories in the United States may be short, conditioned for too long by 30-second TV commercials and 6-second sound bites, memories in most of the world are much longer. Most Americans are probably unaware of their country’s involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and reinstalled the dictatorship of the Shah. But just because we are unaware of this misguided adventure doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is.

Pakistanis, in particular, are well aware of our choosing to support dictators Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Musharraf when our short-term policy goals found these regimes convenient.

The editors of Dawn, then, ask a valid question:

In our case America’s response to military coups has followed a strikingly similar pattern: initial condemnation or criticism, then endorsement and finally whole-hearted support for the junta in question. Mr Berman is no doubt sincere when he says that the US wants to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan. But what guarantee do Pakistanis have that the self-styled champion of democracy will not play the same old game if the tide somehow turns? Can the US confirm in no uncertain terms that it will never support a Pakistani dictator again irrespective of circumstances?

This lingering doubt about whether the US is a long-term partner of Pakistani democracy, or if our past mistakes are a predictor of the future must be addressed. Moreover, this is why ill-informed and misleading journalism is counterproductive for American interests.

Rep. Berman’s (D-Calif.) remarks before the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) are a necessary, but not sufficient step towards addressing Pakistani concerns about America’s commitment to democracy in their country. It is only through our actions that we will be able to regain the trust of the Pakistani people and strengthen our long-term partnership with this burgeoning democracy.

We should do this by continuing our commitment to Pakistan’s national security, our investments in civilian aid and infrastructure, and our vocal support for democracy in the country.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has extended a hand of friendship to the US. it is imperative that we return the gesture.

Joel Brinkley's Column a Gross Misrepresentation of Pakistan

July 5, 2010

Joel BrinkleyDespite being a long-time friend and a key ally in the war on terror, it is – sadly – still not difficult to find journalists writing uninformed and misrepresentative columns about the country. Some are merely the result of a rush to deadline, others, like Joel Brinkley’s column in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, appear to be little more than an ill-conceived attempt to get attention. Whatever his motivation, Joel Brinkley’s column betrays a serious lack of understanding of an important American ally.

Brinkley’s ire with Pakistan appears to have been raised when the nation signed an agreement to run a natural gas pipeline from Iran. While certainly not an ideal situation for American foreign policy in the region, it’s arguable that Pakistan did not have much choice. Staring down an energy crisis that threatens to destabilize the democratic regime, the government of Pakistan had to act quickly. Faced with the choice of irritating some in the US or failing their citizens and sinking the nation into anarchy, the government of Pakistan chose the lesser of two evils.

This was hardly, as Joel Brinkley hyperventilates, Pakistan “stabbing us in the back.” I’m certain that President Obama’s envoy, David Lipton, told the Pakistani government in good faith that we would try to find some alternative source of fuel, but in a nation facing 12-hour power outages, time is not money – it’s stability. That Iran could deliver “742 million cubic feet of natural gas every day” surely forced what was a difficult decision.

We must also keep in mind Iran’s geographic proximity to Pakistan (the two nations share a border) and how this effects Pakistan’s security considerations. Pakistan already has tense relations with India to their East and suffer devastating attacks from jihadi groups that cross over from the Afghanistan border on their West. Surely some part of the Iranian natural gas pipeline deal was informed by a desire to keep Iran from supporting militant networks, potentially requiring a third defensive position for Pakistan’s already over-taxed military.

While this may be inconvenient for American foreign policy, Brinkley’s response that “Pakistan seems to believe it is ‘not bound’ to do anything it finds inconvenient or uncomfortable” is laughably ironic. For starters, as a sovereign nation, Pakistan is not bound do do anything at all, despite whether or not we find their choices inconvenient or uncomfortable (which seems to be Brinkley’s real complaint).

Pakistan has been a close and key ally in the fight against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadi groups in South Asia – a position that has resulted in thousands of Pakistani civilian and military casualties.

It is callous, insulting, and willfully misinformed to suggest that Pakistan is unwilling to do anything it finds “inconvenient or uncomfortable” when it is involved in daily military cooperation in support of US efforts to defeat jihadi militants in neighboring Afghanistan as well as Pakistan’s tribal regions. Surely this meets Brinkley’s requirements for “inconvenient and uncomfortable.”

Furthermore, Brinkley’s allegation that “Right now, Pakistan is sidling up to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban leader who runs a militant network, partners of al Qaeda, that is responsible for a significant part of the insurgency in Afghanistan” is both misleading and woefully incorrect.

The US military, in close cooperation with Pakistani security agencies, has launched Predator drone attacks responsible for eliminating high-level al Qaeda and Taliban leaders – including Mohammed Haqqani – in Dande Darpa Khel village, the Haqqani group’s base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province.

The strike was apparently aimed at Sirajuddin who is the head of the Haqqani network, which has been responsible for some recent attacks in the Afghan capital of Kabul. He wasn’t in the area at the time of the attack, security officials said.

The death of Mohammed Haqqani, who was also actively involved in the Afghan insurgency, comes as a blow to the insurgent group and reinforces the effectiveness of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.

In the past year, Predator drones attacks have taken out many top al Qaeda and Taliban figures. Although the U.S. attacks have been criticized by some Pakistani officials as infringing on the country’s sovereignty, they are carried out with the collaboration of Pakistani security agencies.

None of this would be possible without the cooperation of Pakistan’s military and civilian democratic government – both of which have dramatically shifted from past policies of looking to jihadi groups for “strategic depth” against a potential conflict with India – a shift made possible as Pakistan has come to trust that the US itself has shifted from short-term strategies in the region to a long-term commitment to ensuring Pakistan’s security.

Pakistan’s strategic shift and its vital contribution to the war effort were recognized by Gen. Petraeus earlier this year.

The U.S. military commander who oversees the Afghanistan war said today that Pakistan’s arrest of several Taliban leaders reflected an “evolution” in how the country’s powerful military perceived militants who it once supported.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has also praised Pakistan’s anti-terror effort and criticized people like Joel Brinkley for not appreciating the “extraordinary” effort of Pakistan’s military and democratic government.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has said that Pakistan does not get enough credit for its role in the war against extremists although some of its achievements were ‘pretty extraordinary’.

‘Too many people eagerly and easily criticise Pakistan for what they haven’t done, and when I go to Swat and look at what they did there on the military side I think it’s pretty extraordinary,’ said the US military chief while talking to journalists on Sunday.

Misinformed and misleading journalism like Joel Brinkley’s column do more than just annoy. This type of hysterical misinformation is readily repackaged and redistributed by jihadist sympathizers who seek to drive a wedge between Pakistan and the US. To borrow a phrase from Joel Brinkley, while Pakistan works closely with our military to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, behind our backs journalists like Joel Brinkley are undermining the American war effort in Afghanistan.

While it is unfortunate that Pakistan finds itself in a position in which it believes it is in their interest to negotiate a natural gas agreement with Iran, they remain a strong ally to the United States and a key partner in the war on terror. This cannot be overlooked. Rather than repeating past mistakes and treating Pakistan as a client state, we should respect their domestic energy situation and work to find realistic and timely policy solutions that will continue to support Pakistan’s democratization and important membership in the world community. Petty insults from ill-informed journalists do not help.

Why 2013 Is the Year to Watch

July 4, 2010

Pakistan ballot box

A lot of dates get bandied about in Washington, DC. In 2011, President Obama has said he hopes to significantly reducing US troop levels in Afghanistan. 2012, of course, will be a presidential election year, and American voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to give President Obama another term in office. But it’s 2013, actually, that may decide whether peace and democracy will obtain in South Asia.

Throughout Pakistan’s relatively short history as an independent nation, political leaders have been decided by coup more often than ballot. In fact, since it’s birth in 1947, Pakistan has never once seen one democratically elected government finish a full five-year elected term and peacefully transfer power to another.

Despite this tumultuous past, however, Pakistanis today are more than ever committed to democratic government.

Jeffrey Gedmin and Abubakar Siddique wrote for the New York Times that an important shift has come in Pakistani politics.

This spring, Pakistan’s Parliament signed into law an amendment that purged the country’s 1973 Constitution of all democracy-limiting provisions. The work that led up to the agreement — negotiations that included industrialists, landowners and Islamists, as well as Baluchi and Pashtun tribal leaders — was itself a feat of democratic consensus building.

“This is a landmark in Pakistan’s constitutional history,” a leading parliamentarian told one of us at that time. Can Pakistan become a democracy?

Through one lens the picture looks bleak. Terrorism, poverty, crippling energy shortages and weak civilian institutions are reminders that a stable democratic system and a durable democratic culture will be difficult to establish.

Yet seen through another lens, there’s promise. For one thing, many Pakistanis, despite the current turmoil, seem steadfastly committed to representative government.

The importance of 2013 is beginning to register even with Pakistan’s notoriously antagonistic press. A recent editorial in the English-language daily Express Tribune calls for opposition parties to refrain from trying to force mid-term elections not for the good of the present government, but for the long-term success of the democratic system.

At a time when democracy finally seems to be gaining some traction, it is essential that the current parliament complete its term. Any shake-up before the scheduled 2013 elections will result in a reversion to the farce of a democracy that the country lived through during the 1990s. While an immediate return to direct military rule seems unlikely, talk of fresh elections strengthens the hand of the military to intervene in national politics, an arena from which it must firmly be shut out. We understand and appreciate the frustration of the opposition. There is much to be desired in the governing capabilities of the current administration, particularly on the economic front. Yet there are also very real political achievements of the PPP-led government, achievements which will not only strengthen democracy in the country but will also help the PML-N to govern more effectively if and when it wins the elections at the national level. For that to happen, the party must be willing to wait till 2013.

Another English-language daily, Daily Times, echoes these sentiments in an editorial published today.

The SC’s order to the Chief Election Commissioner to take action under Section 78 of the Representation of People Act 1976 against the latest in the line of fake degree holders who resigned from his National Assembly seat NA-184 Bahawalpur II, PPP’s Mr Amir Yar Waran, should set the precedent for similar action against other proven frauds. Instead of taking umbrage or feeling pressurised, the government should see it as an opportunity to reclaim the values of integrity and honesty for the holders of public office. In addition to legal proceedings against them, such members should be barred for life from holding public office, and no political party should provide them protection or support. Parliament, however, should complete its term. The highly expensive option of mid-term elections has never solved any of our problems in the past. Rather, derailing of governments through extra-parliamentary means mid-term during the 1990s severely undermined democracy.

We have witnessed the results of short-term thinking in US policy toward Pakistan. Our walking away from Pakistan when it was convenient and our support for dictators like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf have left a deficit of trust in Pakistan’s collective consciousness. Though they continue to be one of one of our closest allies, a lingering doubt remains. We must take a long-term view of our relationship with Pakistan. As Gedmin and Siddique write,

We in the West now need to invest in Pakistan’s people and the democratic society they are struggling to build. Let’s not allow the short-term realist thinking of the past to derail Pakistan’s chance.

This is why 2013 is so important. When the 2013 elections occur, the present  government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will either have their popular mandate reaffirmed, or they will peacefully pass the torch of power to a new government to carry on. Either way, it will be the people of Pakistan choosing their own leaders, their own future. Then there can be no doubt that Pakistan has come into its own as a modern democratic nation.

America Mourns for Data Darbar Victims

July 2, 2010

Pakistanis mourning after bombing attack on Sufi shrine

As reports of the dead continue, America is mourning for Pakistan’s terrible loss from a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Lahore. So far, at least 50 people are confirmed dead and over 175 injured by a barbaric triple-suicide bombing in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the second largest city in the nation.

The attack was part of a pattern of increased violence in Pakistan’s heartland, the province of Punjab, a troubling expansion of the Taliban insurgency tormenting the country’s western border.

“This is a barbaric attack,” wrote Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani expert on Sufism, on his Web site. The shrine, he said, “is not just another crowded place — it represents a millennia of tolerant Sufi Islam which is directly under attack by the puritans.”

The bombers detonated their explosives in the basement and inside the shrine, after a Sufi ceremony of singing and prayer, according to a witness, Muhamed Yusef, who was interviewed on Pakistani television. The police retrieved the heads of two of the bombers and estimated their ages as 17 and 22, the television reports said.

The blasts left a sickening scene of devastation. The Express 24/7 television network in Pakistan showed the shrine’s interior littered with bodies, prayer rugs and debris from the blast. Blood pooled on the white marble floor. Crowds gathered outside the shrine after the bombing, shouting, crying and protesting the attack.

“Those who still pretend that we are not a nation at war are complicit in these deaths,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari.

As we have noted before, Pakistan has suffered – and continues to suffer – devastating attacks at the hands of extremist militants. Thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens have been brutally murdered by Taliban and other religious militants who seek to impose a medieval rule on the country by threat of force.

Pakistan continues to fight back against these militant groups. Despite suffering thousands of casualties and coming under direct attack by Taliban terrorists, Pakistan’s military and police forces sacrifice their lives almost daily to protect their fellow citizens.

That this attack comes just before 4th of July weekend is a reminder that our own democracy was built not only on constant sacrifice, but with the support of our friends and allies across the world. As Pakistan continues to sacrifice in order to firmly cement its own democracy, America mourns with you, and promises to stand unwavering at your side.