WikiLeaks Pakistan: Leaks Ahoy!

Posted on May 20, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Foreign Relations, Media Matters
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Adil Najam

WikiLeaks – the leak that keeps on leaking – is now leaking in and on Pakistan.

As of today, Dawn has begun releasing a string of stories based on WikiLeaks documents as part of “The Pakistan Papers.” Based on some 4700 cables related to Pakistan that have been made available as a result of an agreement between Dawn and Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, the newspaper and its website have now begun a slow release of juicy stories about Pakistan on its website and newspaper.

They have, obviously, culled the most exciting stories to start with a bang: the Army Chief wanted more drone strikes, the US was unset with President Zardari’s politics, Shahbaz Sharif was willing to remove the Chief Justice after restoration, government officials were urging more drone strikes. All juicy stuff. Even though some of the denials have already begun coming in.

I must confess, the story I found most interesting to read was actually not about any of the “leaks” but how Dawn itself went about getting and analyzing the stories – I actually find it not just ironic but rather disturbing how secretive an “anti-secrecy” organization and its partners can be in “managing” the information they release.  But that is just an aside. Like others, I am enthralled by what is in the leaked cables, and I expect I will remain so. However, my reaction to them – despite the fascination – remains what it was when the WikiLeak stories first broke:

News junkie that I am, I must confess that I, too, am waiting for Wikileaks. But I am not really sure ‘what’ I am waiting for – or anticipating to hear – from Wikileaks. Nor, do I think, does anyone else. At least any Pakistani… I wonder exactly what we might find from the leaked documents that would really ‘surprise’ any Pakistani leader, or Pakistani journalist, or any Pakistani for that matter?

Some of my original ambivalence has given way to the realization that the politics of WikiLeaks is real, that the politics of WikiLeaks has deeply influenced and maybe changed diplomatic politics in terms of how diplomats will now write cables or react to leaked news, and also that the politics of WIkiLeaks can have consequence. For most part, I think all of this has been healthy, but not all of it is so, I think. Ironically, I think this will increase secrecy in international affairs, not decrease it What was earlier said in side-conversations will now be said in whispers; what was said in whispers may not be said at all.

More immediately, and closer to home, I am struck by how people react to the leaks, even when they merely confirm or affirm that which we already knew or that which we wanted to hear. The same folks who will discount stated national policy from the highest offices of power will willingly accept the opinion of some lowly bureaucrat (that is who writes most of these cables) as the ‘real’ reflection of state policy. And that, I think adds more to the information haze than to sunlight and clarity. But that, I guess, is the nature of the new world of information overload that we live in. More information, less knowledge. And so much information that you can always find ‘proof’ and ‘evidence’ of whatever it was that you wanted to believe in anyhow.

And that is why I will read at least some of these leaks as entertainment rather than news. Indeed, there alrady is and will be insight, but I think it will be increasingly difficult to sift out from mere noise. And teh louder the noise gets, the more difficult it is to get to the insight.

As a parting note, here is the insight I have culled from leaks old and new: What people hear is as much a function of what was said as it is of what they want to hear. And what people report back in memos and cables about what they hear is even more likely to be a function of what they wanted to say to their superiors anyhow. I assume, therefore, that what we are finding in these cables is not just a reflection of what Pakistani leaders were saying and wanting (although it is that too) but even more a function of what mid-level US bureaucrats wanted to see happen — want more drone strikes, justify them by highlighting quotes about how local leaders want the same!

So, I am glad that the leaks are leaking. Both because I learn new things about what Pakistani leaders might have been saying, and even more because I learn so much more about what US officials have actually been thinking and advocating through their choice of what to report back. That, I think, is the real intelligence being leaked here!

16 responses to “WikiLeaks Pakistan: Leaks Ahoy!”

  1. bilal says:

    Pakistan zindabad, a youth revolution is ready to come

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