The takeout, from a first, fast reading: the U.S. is frustrated by evidence of continued Pakistani support for Afghan insurgents, and the war is not going well, according to the soldiers fighting it.

Neither of those facts is breaking news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the war, but the coordinated delivery of the stories to outlets in three of the largest troop-contributing nations to Afghanistan and sourced by the media-savvy WikiLeaks suggests the goal here is to catalyze an emerging consensus against the war. ~Laura Rozen

Rozen goes on to mention that the documents that have been released cover the years 2004-09, so they are necessarily going to provide an overwhelmingly negative picture of the war in Afghanistan as it was being managed according to the previous policy. That was the status quo before the current administration implemented its present plan, that was the default alternative that would have prevailed had the administration not made its changes, and it is also the approach favored by many of the war’s belated opponents. In other words, much of what is included in the leaked documents seems to discredit the way the war was being fought then, and it tells us much less about how it is being fought now. If the goal is to create a consensus against the war in Afghanistan, it might help if the leak told us something significant we didn’t already know.

As far as Pakistani complicity and “duplicity” are concerned, this is both old news and also somewhat misleading. The ISI sponsored the Taliban in the 1990s and had the blessing of Bhutto’s government to do so, and prior to the September 11 attacks Pakistan was one of three states in the world that recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. There have been elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan all along after Musharraf officially turned against them. On the other hand, for the last several years the Pakistani military has been waging a major military campaign against Taliban militias inside Pakistan despite the misgivings of many Pakistani officers and their resentment of being asked to fight what many of them still see as a primarily American war. Despite public protestations against U.S. drone strikes, Pakistan’s government has permitted the launching of drones from within Pakistan.

It is difficult to square the careful, strict rules of engagement U.S. forces are expected to follow in Afghanistan with the massive displacement of hundreds of thousands of people resulting from Pakistan’s offensives, but we should be able to recognize that Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership are actually doing a lot of what Washington wants. So when we talk about Pakistani “duplicity,” we need to understand that what we are perceiving as duplicity is in large part a function of the fragmented nature of the Pakistani state in which some elements continue pursuing an earlier agenda that directly conflicts with current policy. We should also recognize that the top Pakistani military and civilian leaders are already doing more than most allied governments would do under similar conditions.

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