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Afghan war document leak could affect Obama's re-election

Last updated on: July 27, 2010 14:37 IST

Afghan war document leak could cost Obama dear

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The US president and his advisers in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon cannot claim that they too were unaware of the shocking facts in the leaked documents, says internal security expert B Raman

The leakage of nearly 90,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan for the period between January 2004 and December 2009 by Wikileaks, an American web site which disseminates secret information of public interest received from whistleblowers after verifying the authenticity of such information, could damage the chances of the re-election of President Barack Obama in the presidential elections of 2012.

The documents cover a period of six years -- five years during the presidency of George W Bush and one year of Obama. The reaction from the officials of the Obama administration to the leakage went through three phases. In the first phase, they tried to prevent the secret documents from being brought into the public domain. In the second phase, they grudgingly admitted the seriousness of the facts as disclosed in the leaked documents and sought to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the state of affairs in Afghanistan by highlighting the fact that most of these documents related to the period when Bush was the president.

Only now, it has dawned upon them that nearly 20 per cent of the leaked documents relate to the period from January 2009 when Obama took over as the president. Even if the vast majority of the documents cover five years of the Bush presidency, there will be a legitimate assumption under the law that officials of the Obama administration -- if not Obama himself -- must have been aware of all this.


Image: Pallbearers carry the coffins of four NATO soldiers killed in Faryab province, Afghanistan
Photographs: Reuters
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Obama administration was aware of ISI-Taliban links

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Yet, the Obama administration did not take into account this disturbing state of affairs in Afghanistan while formulating its new Af-Pak strategy. This strategy had two aspects. The first was a surge in US troops sent to Afghanistan in an attempt to weaken, if not defeat, the Taliban by the middle of 2011.

The second was to integrate Pakistan into this strategy in order to seek its co-operation in the military operations against the Taliban and in restoring stability in Afghanistan.

As part of this attempt to integrate Pakistan into this strategy, military and economic assistance amounting to US $7.5 billion for Pakistan over a five-year period was approved by the Congress under the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

As the Congress was discussing and approving the bill, officials of the Obama administration were aware of the continuing collusion of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence with the Taliban and the ISI's attempts to destabilise the Hamid Karzai government.


Image: US President Barack Obama meets American troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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What is the reality of America's policy towards Pakistan?

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They were also aware of the role of the Taliban in the blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, in which 58 persons were killed.

Despite the availability in the records of the administration of all this information regarding the deception by Pakistan on the US, officials of the administration persuaded the Congress to pass the bill.

From the comments made by Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it is apparent that he has been disturbed by the disclosures regarding Pakistan's collusion with the Taliban made in the leaked documents.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has quoted him as saying, 'However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.'

Kerry and other members of the Congress who voted to increase economic and military assistance for Pakistan might have been unaware of the full details of what Kerry described as 'the reality of America's policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.'

But Obama and his advisers in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon cannot claim that they too were unaware of the facts.


Image: Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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ISI is helping Taliban against US-led NATO forces

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What role did the ISI's collusion with the Taliban play in the increasing fatalities suffered by the US troops in Afghanistan? How could the Obama administration have decided to step up military and economic assistance to Pakistan despite being aware of the 'reality' of the ISI's role in helping the Taliban in its operations against the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's troops?

Earlier, it used to be believed that the ISI was using terrorist organisations only to kill Indian nationals and target Indian interests. The leaked documents clearly indicate that the ISI had been knowingly helping the Taliban, another terrorist organisation, against the troops of the US-led NATO forces and the Afghan security forces.

Even if the Obama administration did not want to act against Pakistan for killing Indians, one would have expected it to act against Pakistan for contributing to the deaths of US soldiers by assisting the Taliban. In spite of knowing all these details about the ISI-Taliban collusion, the Obama administration chose not to act. That is the shocking 'reality of America's policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.'

As these facts are widely discussed in the US, Obama's credibility could be dented and his chances of re-election damaged.


Image: A US soldier runs in the millitary base of Gorgan, Afghanistan
Photographs: Denis Sinyakov/Reuters
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How did a junior analyst get access to classified databases?

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The second implication of the Wikileaks should be of concern to the intelligence and security agencies of all countries including India. How did a junior US military analyst posted in Baghdad have access to two highly-classified databases of the US -- one of the Pentagon relating to military developments, and the other probably of the US State Department relating to diplomatic developments.

He seems to have transferred to CDs the contents of nearly 200,000 documents from these two databases. Only 90,000 of these documents relating to military developments in Afghanistan have been published by Wikileaks so far. The contents of the remaining -- many of which probably relate to diplomatic developments -- have not been disclosed so far. One does not know why.

The action of the junior US analyst who got access to these databases and transferred their contents to his CDs shows how insecure the so-called secure databases are and how one could break into them. Instead of harassing and prosecuting the analyst, the US agencies should enter into a plea bargain with him by promising no action. The analyst should tell US agencies how he managed to access the database so that the US security agencies can plug the loopholes in their cyber security.


Image: US soldiers chat with residents as they patrol in the village of Gorgan, Afghanistan
Photographs: Denis Sinyakov/Reuters
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