The online release of a mountain of U.S. intelligence documents is tantalizing for being stamped "secret," sensational because of WikiLeaks'¬† impressive media strategy, and politically relevant because it arrives in an atmosphere of increasing disillusionment over prospects for victory in Afghanistan.
But very little in these documents is fundamentally new or different from what we've been hearing for years. Above all, anyone shocked to learn that the Taliban have supporters in Pakistan, including elements within the Pakistan intelligence services, has not been paying attention.
Some of the juicy rumors contained in the documents--of secret meetings between Taliban leaders and Pakistan's former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, or the ISI training of suicide bombers--have circulated widely for some time. But after sifting through this small mountain of text, the New York Times and other media outlets still failed to find what would qualify as new "smoking gun" evidence of Pakistani ISI connections with terrorists operating in Afghanistan.
The reality is that they don't need any new information. On numerous occasions the U.S. government has publicly implicated the ISI in terrorist activities, notably in the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul perpetrated by the Haqqani network of Afghan Taliban with ISI support. On August 1, 2008, two of the New York Times reporters who helped write today's WikiLeaks story had a lead story headlined: "Pakistanis Aided Attack in Kabul, U.S. Officials Say."
The United States and Pakistan do not have a normal alliance. The relationship is infused with deep contradictions, including the fact that Pakistan behaves in ways simultaneously helpful and harmful to U.S. interests.
Americans must come to understand that Pakistan is internally divided in a national debate over what direction the country should take regarding militancy and extremism and their role in the region. For decades--in many ways, since Pakistan's very founding--Islamabad has supported militant groups to pressure Afghanistan and India. That practice persists. The real question is what the United States ought to do about it.
The Obama administration is trying to build a stronger relationship with Pakistan's civilian and military leaders, hoping to coax them in a more positive direction. At the same time, armed U.S. drones patrol Pakistani airspace and launch missiles against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, publicly praise Pakistan's military operations along the Afghan border and then--more often privately than in public--express concerns that Pakistan must do far more.
Critics of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and skeptics about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan will undoubtedly seize upon these leaked documents to advance their arguments. And some of these arguments have merit. But if WikiLeaks actually influences U.S. policy in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it will be because of the divisive policy debates already swirling in Washington today, not because there has been much in the way of significant new material evidence.