In Afghanistan, Little Anger At Leaked Documents

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In Afghanistan, the release of the Wikileaks documents has elicited a much different response than the angry denunciations coming out of Washington and Islamabad. The Afghan government seems to have no objection at all about the leaking of so much classified information.


In Afghanistan, the release of the Wikileaks documents detailing the war there has brought a much different response than the angry denunciations coming out of Washington and Islamabad. The Afghan government seems to have no objection at all to the leaking of so much classified military information.

Joining us on the line to explain is NPR's Kabul bureau chief, Quil Lawrence.

And Quil, President Hamid Karzai doesn't seem at all upset that this information is coming to light. Why is that?

QUIL LAWRENCE: Quite the contrary. Karzai and his government are saying that this reinforces their longstanding position: first, that the Pakistani intelligence service has been behind car bombing and assassination plots in Afghanistan; and second, that the U.S. - especially in the years up until 2009 - was reckless with air strikes and killed many, many civilians, although they have said that in recent months and the last year and a half, that has improved.

MONTAGNE: And has there been an American reaction to Mr. Karzai's endorsement, if you could call it that, of these documents?

LAWRENCE: It kind of shows the tangled set of cross purposes that are going on here. Karzai needs the U.S., but he also knows that the American occupation of Afghanistan is very unpopular with his people.

A clear example would be this incident in Helmand in the south last week, where President Karzai himself now claims that over 50 civilians - including women and children - died in a U.S. missile strike. Karzai released this information yesterday, and the American military response was - if a bland military press release can be angry - this one was livid. It said American officials said that they're conducting an investigation into that incident in Helmand, and that the Afghan government is investigating it with them, and that the joint investigation hasn't found any evidence of a civilian casualty. But if Mr. Karzai has the evidence, he should let them know - essentially.

MONTAGNE: But has there been reaction, from Washington or from the diplomatic corps, to Karzai's saying that these documents were, effectively, as you've described it, his saying that they were a good thing?

LAWRENCE: What we're getting here on the ground is all being referred back to Washington. They won't even comment on the information in the leaks. They won't comment on the fact of the leaks. They're not giving us anything at all here in Kabul.

MONTAGNE: Karzai also, as you say, is feeling like these documents support what he's said all along. He's denounced the Pakistani ISI - that's the intelligence service - for its backing of militants in Afghanistan. But he's actually been getting closer to Pakistan in recent months. So how do those two things match up?

LAWRENCE: Well, that's what observers here say that Karzai and the Pakistani government now have in common. They're both preparing for the day - which may be sooner or later - that the U.S. will pull out of Afghanistan. And Pakistan will still be - as they often remind us - Pakistan will still be Afghanistan's neighbor.

So it's nearly unanimous here that the war will only end through negotiation, and that those negotiations have to be blessed by Pakistan's ISI, especially as these leaked documents reveal that the ISI is still deeply involved in the insurgency. So Karzai has been making some moves. He's replaced some key officials with faces that look a little more friendly to Pakistan, and perhaps a little less friendly to the U.S. Of course, on paper, these three countries are close allies, and the U.S. is providing them with billions of dollars in aid.

MONTAGNE: And in other news there in Afghanistan, there's now news this morning that one of those two Navy men who had gone missing in Taliban territory is dead, and his body has been recovered. What else do we know? What about the other?

LAWRENCE: It's now acknowledged by the U.S. military that that other sailor, actually, is probably a Taliban captive, and they have demanded that his captors treat him humanely. It just broke, as you say, this morning that they have recovered the body with this extensive search operation going on in neighboring Logar province, just about 60 miles out of the capital. They've recovered one body, confirmed that one of the men was killed. The other one is missing and most likely, as the Taliban claim, he's a captive of the insurgency.

MONTAGNE: Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with NPR's Quil Lawrence. He's in Kabul.

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