A little recognized truth: the Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s largest intelligence agency, is the prime reason Afghanistan remains an insurgent’s haven. While I have briefly touched upon this here at the Stage, others have covered the matter much more extensively. Writers such as “Zenpundit”, “Pundita“, and the folks at NewsHoggers (all on my blog roll) have spilt an incredible amount of ink on the subject. As Zenpundit said in a recent post, they “bang pots and pans, shoot off fireworks, uses her knee to pound a bass drum while blowing a vuvuzela in an effort to draw attention to the Elephant in the policy room no one wishes to address.”
Many of the mentioned authors are quite skeptical that all of this banging and pounding will amount to anything. Washington has turned a blind eye to such things before, and main stream media outlets have shown little interest in helping them out.
Near the beginning of June the London School of Economics released a 30 page discussion paper titled “The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Afghan Insurgents and Pakistan’s ISI”. The conclusion of the paper was clear: the links between the ISI and Taliban insurgents are real and undeniable. The report describes in excruciating detail how Pakistani intelligence operatives and armed forces gave Afghan insurgents training, funding, munitions, supplies, and a sanctuary on the other side of the Durand Line.
This was not the first report to detail the insurgents’ collusion with the ISI (accusations of this sort stretch all the way back to 2006), but it was the first to get widespread media attention. Every major news outlet covered the story. Not a newspaper in Washington failed to publish a story with the title, “Strong ties between Pakistan’s ISI and Taliban: study.”
And thus began the change of the tide. The New York Times was quick to investigate the matter further, and soon published a follow-up piece based upon their own reporting. Placed squarely at the top of A1, the lede reads:
Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt, and Carlotta Gall. New York Times. 24 June 2010.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan is exploiting the troubled United States military effort in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that would give Pakistan important influence there but is likely to undermine United States interests, Pakistani and American officials said.
And with this the great reservoir broke. Thousands of articles on the subject have been written over the course of the last two weeks.
It is not just the beat reporters jumping in on this game. Partisan flag ships like The Guardian and The Weekly Standard agree on little, but both have seen it fit to publish open editorials placing the blame for Afghanistan’s chaos on the shoulders of Rawalpindi. The arbiters of the establishment view, the Council on Foreign Relations and Rand Corporation,* have also joined the fray. As with the dailies and partisan papers, the two think tanks are in agreement.
The tide has turned. Slowly America’s opinion making class has come to the realization that the greatest challenge facing Afghanistan is Pakistan. The 4th estate has spoken. The ball is now in Washington’s court.
*The Brookings Institute completes the triumvirate. However, Brookings has published nothing on the ISI in recent times.
While some see the "new cycle" as a relentless twenty-four hour repetition of sound bites, there is another sense in which the news cycle is almost as slow as evolution (understood along gradualist lines). Certainly the connection between the Taliban and the ISI is one of these cases. The Taliban was created by the ISI with US assistance and material aid in order to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. Old news. Very old news.
The interesting questions come from escaping both news cycles — the short term sound bites and the long term lag in important stories — and becoming proactive in identifying the problems we are creating today and which we will face tomorrow. What Frankenstein's monster is today being secretly fashioned with abundant US tax dollars? Are we, in combating one threat, creating the next threat?