Experts say WikiLeaks will not alter flow of US aid



ISLAMABAD // The reliance of the United States on Pakistan to secure an "honourable" exit from Afghanistan means co-operation between the countries will not be affected by the claims made in the WikiLeaks documents, analysts and officials have said. Analysts said that the US Congress already had access to the information in the leaked intelligence reports and speculated the allegations would not result in massive aid cuts to Pakistan.

And for now there were no public signs that Congress was moving to cut the US$7.5 billion (Dh27.5 billion) Pakistan is scheduled to receive in civilian aid - and an unspecified amount of military aid - over the next five years. But the release of the reports by the online whistle-blower earlier this week could weaken American public support for the war, analysts warned. Pakistan's powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has strenuously denied allegations made in the documents of close connections between it and Taliban militants fighting Nato troops in Afghanistan.

"The United States is dependent on Pakistan to secure an honourable exit out of Afghanistan and for ensuring that al Qa'eda does not regenerate after an American departure," Arif Rafiq, a political analyst based in New York, told The National. "The WikiLeaks stories will not impact the deep security partnership between the United States and Pakistan. But it could lessen US public support for a war that is seen increasingly as aimless, futile and costly.

"US legislators are well aware of the risks in alienating Pakistan's security establishment when its assistance is desperately needed." Washington has publicly refrained from criticising the Pakistani government or the ISI since the documents were made public on WikiLeaks on Monday. However, Pakistani analysts and officials concede that pressure on the country to deliver more will intensify. US officials have praised the Pakistani military for its offensives in the tribal regions in the past year and a half but have consistently urged the launch of another assault in North Waziristan. The tribal area straddles the border with Afghanistan and is a safe haven for al Qa'eda and Taliban.

In recent weeks, US officials have given signals that elements within the Taliban, who are willing to disassociate themselves from al Qa'eda, can be brought to the negotiating table. Pakistan's role is crucial in any such arrangement due to its influence over certain Taliban factions. However, the US has shown an aversion to the Haqqani network, operating out of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region and thought to be most favoured by the ISI.

The trove of leaked US military documents, dating from 2004 to 2009, suggested low-level Pakistani intelligence support for the Taliban. Pakistani officials maintain that if any form of such policy was pursued, it occurred under the government of former President Pervez Musharraf. "Bottom line is that those in the government of the United States who deal with us on a daily basis know that we are doing things to build trust," Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani Ambassador to the US, said during an appearance on PBS channel's News Hour yesterday.

"Our intelligence service and the US intelligence service are working closely together now, much more than ever before. The mistrust that was, which we inherited from the era when General Musharraf, a dictator, was in power in Pakistan, a lot of it has eroded." "It's a work in progress, but I think Pakistan and the US are closer today than they were from the period from which these documents come from," Haqqani stressed.

How much of the efforts at damage control succeeds remains to be seen in the coming weeks. Pakistan and the US have had a tumultuous history, often riven with mutual mistrust despite the expediencies of temporary strategic alliances formed over the decades. Anti-Americanism has increased steadily in Pakistan although the country gets heavy financial and military aid from the United States. Cooperation with the US in the fight against Islamist militancy is viewed warily by a large section of the Pakistani population.

While officials from both sides have tried to drive down the potential fallout of the WikiLeaks documents, the stereotypical perceptions of both the Pakistani and American public are likely to be reinforced further. Both Pakistani print and electronic media have been filled with commentary and analysis that saw the timing of the leaked documents as convenient. Criticism of the ISI is seen as a way to make a scapegoat of Pakistan for a war that is going badly for the Americans.

"It is both a deep and fractured relationship. The relationship involves extremes. In areas where their interests overlap, the two countries cooperate greatly," Mr Rafiq added. "But in areas in which their interests diverge, Pakistan, in particular, practises what some call "strategic defiance" - an independent path of its own". @Email:smasood@thenational.ae

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