There are few places in the world where the truth is so shrouded in mystery that lies become publicly accepted truths, and the truth brushed aside as a lie; where there are no known knowns, or even known unknowns — but simply, unknown unknowns. Pakistan is such a place. So disconnected with reality — or is reality that’s so disjointed — are the manufactured narratives of the establishment (read, the Pakistani Army) that no one, not even the people in charge, seems to know what’s going on. Were the attackers who besieged the naval base recently jihadis, American/Indian spies, defected Pakistani soldiers? Who knows.

Cyril Almeida writes:

A combination of denial and exaggeration, that self-constructed narrative — subtly and not-so-subtly foisted off on the public via the media and other channels of manipulation — acts as a buffer against any meaningful inspection of the army’s track record.

The propagators of this dizzying confusion continue unabated, taking their charade to comedic heights.

On June 9, the satirical magazine, The Onion, had a funny story pointedly mocking Pakistan’s double-dealing with the US. It begins:

ISLAMABAD—Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency restated Thursday its commitment to the fight against terrorism, pledging full cooperation with U.S. forces during the upcoming strike on an al-Qaeda safe house on June 12 at 5:23 a.m. near the small town of Razmani in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan.

There’s a picture of a Pakistani official pointing out exactly where the Americans will hit, in addition to the exact time. The piece quotes the ISI Chief saying that “Pakistan stands shoulder to shoulder with our American allies in hunting down those who threaten our national security”, while in the same piece the head of the intelligence agency tips off militants:

“I know if I were a member of al-Qaeda, I’d want to cover my tracks very carefully,” Pasha said. “Because any evidence that hasn’t been carted away through the back alley near the market will be turned over to U.S. special forces, who will arrive approximately one hour later and will have full access to the site.”

“And what I definitely wouldn’t do is try to escape to one of the other safe houses in town, since the Americans already have them under surveillance, and have been watching them for quite some time,” he added.

Now that’s funny.

But imagine my surprise when I read this in the Washington Post:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Twice in recent weeks, the United States provided Pakistan with the specific locations of insurgent bomb-making factories, only to see the militants learn their cover had been blown and vacate the sites before military action could be taken, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

U.S. officials say they do not know how the operation was compromised. But they are concerned that either the information was inadvertently leaked inside Pakistan or insurgents were warned directly by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI.

So there it is. Reality imitates satire in Pakistan. Hah?

“When you send people who have the wrong tools into those situations … they don’t (know) anything else really to do other than use force.” This aptly describes what unfolded at the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Park in Karachi yesterday, when a Pakistani Ranger – a paramilitary soldier – fired upon an accused thief as he pleaded for his life. As a video of the incident shows, 25-year-old Sarfaraz Shah used no force as a Ranger pointed his rifle towards him. Shah seemed to be pleading, and placed his hand on the rifle in a non-threatening manner. But the Ranger, seemingly threatened, fired and killed him. Four other Rangers stood by and watched, and by some accounts, encouraged the Ranger to shoot.

Yet, the blame for this manslaughter in broad daylight cannot exclusively fall on the Ranger and his companions. The quote above belongs isn’t related to this incident. It’s from an article about an altercation in Montreal, Canada on Tuesday that left a homeless man, who the police were trying to arrest, and an innocent bystander dead. And even though the two tragedies were literally worlds apart, the lesson is the same: when law enforcers do not have the proper training to deal with certain situations, the results are deadly.

Quite obviously lacking proper training, the other Rangers simply stood aside as Shah pleaded. They should have rushed to overpower and arrest him instead of behaving as casual onlookers. That would’ve been the common sense approach for any set of police officers with a modicum of training. It is apparent that the Rangers were not properly trained in dealing with unarmed suspects; that, or they acted with malice towards a civilian. The bigger issue, however, is the presence of a paramilitary force in a park that families frequent.

The Pakistan Rangers have been given extensive policing powers in the past decade to quell the law and order situation in the metropolis of Karachi. In January 2010, their mandate to detain and arrest suspects was extended to allow them to tackle the increasing incidence of targeted killings. They are on the frontlines against terrorists and the violent gangs, for which they have paid dearly and courageously for their lives.

But they are not a policing force. They simply had no place patrolling a civilian park, which should reasonably fall under the mandate of the Sindh Police, not paramilitary forces. It is amply clear from the numerous reports of “encounters” – where suspects and bystander alike are killed – that Rangers lack the training and tact required for community policing.

For far too long, the Sindh government has outsourced its policing responsibilities to the Rangers in its search for quick and easy solutions to the dearth of well trained provincial police officers. The consequence of that shortsightedness is the slaughter of young Sarfaraz Shah and many, many other undocumented encounters. Should the government’s policing strategy continue and should it eschew a community-centred, civilian response to policing, the ultimate victim will be the (already precarious) faith in the state’s institutions.

I was fortunate enough to spend the past month shadowing one of Pakistan’s leading constitutional lawyers (For privacy’s sake, I will omit his name). A talented jurist, he would roll into court with reams of case law, a thick folder – containing the petition, affidavits, counter-affidavits, rejoinders, what have you – and an excellent memory. He would dazzle some judges and piss off others with his often novel theories about why such and such law was ultra vires or unconstitutional. As I sat there in the hot and stuffy court rooms of the High Court, I noticed that the majority of his cases and those of other prominent lawyers were about taxes. The clients had been taxed too much, or the clients simply didn’t want to pay some taxes, so they went to lawyers to figure out ways to avoid paying them. Given the poor drafting, implementation and execution of laws, it goes without saying that the lawyers didn’t have too much trouble striking down seemingly valid taxes.

What’s happening in the courts is just the tip of the iceberg. These are some of the bigger players in the Pakistani economy, and they can’t easily escape the scrutiny of the Federal Board of Revenue, the national tax collector. They, at the least, are seeking a legal way of avoiding taxes. While there are about three million registered taxpayers in Pakistan, only about two million – about 1.1 percent of the entire population – file tax returns. That number excludes the fact that most of those taxpayers do not declare significant parts of their income by way of complex legal maneuvering, tax code loopholes, or simple misrepresentation. If a tax investigator starts asking questions, a bribe can usually make him look the other way.

Nobody anywhere likes paying taxes. There’s a saying, attributed to American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, that encapsulates this universal antipathy: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. But in Pakistan, the former is almost always assured and the latter is rarely certain.

The scope of the Pakistani tax problem has recently amplified, as the country experiences historically high inflation (14.5%, according to official figures. The true figure is perhaps a few percentage points higher). Pakistan relies on foreign aid for a large chunk of its budget at a time when it’s struggling to reassert its sovereignty and to forge an independent foreign policy. And as long as it continues to rely on American aid to prop up its institutions, the Pakistani government cannot reasonably assert any sovereignty. This has lead members of the Pakistani media to demand the political leadership to increase the tax base. Almost daily now, a news talkshow host will decry the the woeful neglect of the taxation system. The problem, however, isn’t a lack of a well developed taxation bureaucracy. Pakistan’s FBR is descended from the British Empire’s Indian Civil Service’s efficient structure, and today is a modern, functioning organization. The problem, as Emma Duncan identified in her book Breaking the Curfew, published in 1989, is that Pakistanis simply don’t want to pay taxes. She noted that a study of the country’s tax system found no shortcomings in the bureaucracy’s management or its structure. So then we’re left to ask: why don’t Pakistanis want to pay taxes?

During a major tax case involving billions of rupees and hundreds of businesses in the province of Sindh, the judge interrupted the businesses’ lawyers as they presented their initial oral arguments. He went on a tirade about how prominent lawyers come into his court room everyday to challenge the validity of tax laws. He then pointed out the stark contrast between Pakistan and India’s tax revenue to GDP ratio. India’s is a modest 18%, but Pakistan’s lags at an inadequate 9%, he said. The two countries inherited the same tax bureaucracy structure, and yet the difference is significant.

Mosharraf Zaidi, of The News, has authored an insightful op-ed, offering an explanation for the high rate of tax avoidance in Pakistan. He argues that the disconnect stems from the lack of a social contract:

Pakistan is a state and society operating without a modern social contract. The state exists and persists without a linear fiscal relationship with the people. In plain English, the state is unaccountable to the people of Pakistan because the people of Pakistan do not pay taxes. The state doesn’t “owe” the people any services, or answers, and the people don’t feel that they owe the state any money.

It’s the chicken and the egg conundrum. Pakistanis do not pay taxes because the state is not accountable. And the state does not feel accountable to the citizenry because they do not foot its bill. There is no social contract to bind the two. It’s a compelling argument, and anecdotally, it’s constantly affirmed when you ask Pakistanis why they don’t pay taxes. The common response invokes corruption: if we pay, then it goes to the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, so why bother. But I’m not entirely convinced that corruption alone is the problem. Take, for example, India, a state that’s equally corrupt. Yet, India manages to recuperate almost twice the percentage of tax in relation to GDP.

Above, I mapped out the tax revenue to GDP ratio figures (courtesy: Heritage Foundation) of about 167 countries against Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. I found a Pearson correlation coefficient of around 0.497, indicating a positive correlation between tax revenue to GDP and corruption. This reflects a medium strength of association. Of course, this test should be taken with a grain of salt. It doesn’t, for instance, account for the real figure we should be measuring: the tax gap, that is, the estimated difference between the tax owed and the tax paid per jurisdiction. Tax revenue to GDP is but a rough measure of the tax gap; it assumes that there is a general positive relationship between tax owed and tax paid, and that this gap is universal. And it isn’t. But what this graph does show us is that there is some relation between the perceived corruption in a country and its citizens’ willingness to pay tax.

And this supports Mosharraf’s original contention. The social contract is not just about corruption, however. It creates that abstract link of faith between the government and its citizens that if the citizens pay taxes, then the government will deliver. I concur that Pakistanis lack that abstract faith in government. Despite the roaring popular nationalism that floods airwaves and television screens, Pakistanis, like anyone group of people, ultimately vote with their wallets. And this aversion to paying taxes is about more than corruption. It’s reflective of a state in taters and a people with no confidence their leaders. We are then to conclude with a twist on an old adage: without taxation, there can be no representation.

I rarely wade into partisan politics, but we’re on the heels of yet another election. And this time around, I’d rather not that we end up with up Conservative minority government. So OLO (Opposition Leader’s Office), listen up.

Iggy, you’re terrible at making ads. We don’t want to hear your life story. The voter wants to know why the status quo isn’t sustainable, and why you’re better. In a span of ten minutes, my friend Eric and I came up with ad ideas that are objectively better than anything your team has come up with. Here they are:

Ad # 1: Enough is Enough

We’re a country of laws. [Image of Parliament] We work hard [Image of factory]. We play by the rules. [Intense, dramatic music with image of kids playing hockey]

And we expect our elected representatives to play by them too.

The Harper government has lied to and deceived Canadians. [show quotes from the Globe and National Post]

Enough is enough, Mr. Harper.

It’s time to quit playing games with taxpayer money. It’s time to quit playing games with our democracy.

Ad #2: A Necessary Election

$6 billion in unnecessary tax cuts for big corporations while our national debt grows unsustainably by the day.

$30 billion on unnecessary fighter jets that are “the most expensive defense program in the history of the world“.

$13 billion on unnecessary large, American-style prisons.

An unnecessary election? No, Mr. Harper, with our future on the line, this election is very necessary.

Ad #3: I’m home [appropriate musc in the background]

“I’d rather see 30 billion dollars invested in educating Canada’s future leaders than fighting enemies of the past.

I’d rather live in a Canada where our Prime Minister and his government are open, honest and accountable; where they don’t outright lie or conceal the truth.

I’d rather live in a Canada where the needs of the average Canadian, not the average multinational corporation, come first. (this one might be a bit risky)

I’m Michael Ignatieff, and THAT’S why I came home.”

Originally published in the McGill Daily

“There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom,” Barack Obama said hours after Hosni Mubarak resigned. Those were the same words Martin Luther King Jr. spoke upon the birth of an independent Ghana. That was – like today – a time of great upheaval. The peoples of Africa had spent decades trying to liberate themselves from underneath the boots of Western empires. Then post-war Europe retreated, and they were finally free. Two decades later, another wave of euphoria swept the world. Eastern Europeans clamoured for freedom, tearing down the walls dividing the world between Marxism and liberalism.

It was then that Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist, famously proclaimed that history had ended. The end of history did not mean that the world would come to a grinding halt, but that the ideological struggle throughout human history to establish the best form of human government had ended. Western liberal democracy had triumphed. Today, few would argue against the claim that people have a universal right to freedom and that they should be governed by consent. Admittedly, the claim sounds generic, if not meaningless – but that is only a testament to how deeply liberal democratic discourse has crept into the political lexicon around the world.

The euphoria for liberal democracy, however, has subsided as illiberal democracy takes hold in places like Russia, Zimbabwe, and Iran. The states have crushed the rule of law and eroded basic human rights. Worse, democracy has seemingly failed to penetrate China and much of the Arab world, where autocrats cling to power with the help of brutal security forces. The greatest blow to liberal democracy came from its loudest proponent, President George W. Bush. His “freedom agenda” confused the laudable goal of promoting liberal democracy with that of invading – without provocation – sovereign states. As a result, democracy was sullied. It certainly didn’t help that although Fukuyama opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he had signed a letter in 1997 – along with architects of the war, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – urging Bill Clinton to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime.

What then was to become of liberal democracy? Historian Robert Kagan, a fellow signatory to that infamous letter, informed us of “the return of history and the end of dreams” in a 2007 essay and 2008 book. He argued that liberal democracy would not, after all triumph. Autocracy and Islamism had replaced Marxism as the main ideological opponents to the liberal democratic order.

Then, Tunisia suddenly erupted. Tunisians came out into the streets in droves to oust a decades-old regime. Egyptians followed. Mubarak refused to budge, so they too would not budge from Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square. They defeated the Egyptian security state. Like fire, the spirit of liberation has spread across the Arab world: protesters are calling for democracy in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, and Yemen. In Libya, protesters are braving death to confront a brutal, maniacal dictator – and they’re succeeding.

Whether these movements ultimately overthrow the Arab world’s autocrats remains an open-ended question. An ancillary question is whether repressive, illiberal democracies-in-name will replace them. Detractors will likely point out that 84 per cent of Egyptians favour the death penalty for apostates – a sign that illiberal democracy will follow. Yet, 90 per cent of Egyptians also believe in freedom of religion. The contradictory responses reveal still unformed views about what their democracy will look like.

But whatever the outcome, what is clear is that – by risking their lives for the simple idea that people should govern themselves and be free – millions of souls across the Arab world have cried out for freedom. History may not yet have come to a halt, but the potent appeal of liberal democracy pushes it ever closer.

Washington, D.C. – In a major reversal of administration policy, the Pentagon announced today its intention to extend the Afghan mission to 3014, citing the date as a more realistic date for withdrawal. The announcement follows the conclusion of an extensive internal review ordered by President Obama earlier this year. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell explained that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces in 2014 would “be way too soon” and would jeopardize any hopes of stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The authors of the Pentagon report argued that a thousand year postponement would allow the Afghan National Army to build up sufficient capacity to defend itself and would be–perhaps–enough time for the Afghans to develop a stable political system. Andrew Exum, chairman of the review committee, said the committee considered the situation in Afghanistan analogous to that of 11th century England. The Norman Conquest of England, Exum said, offers an excellent example of how occupation can result in a prosperous democracy. “Look, it took approximately a thousand years–from the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to the Magna Carta in 1215, to the industrial revolution–for the parliamentary system to entrench itself in English political life,” said Exum. “It’s only fair we allow our Afghan allies that much time too,” he elaborated.

Joining the greatest intellectuals of our time–including constitutional law expert Sarah Palin and Camus scholar Newt Gingrich–Sam Harris courageously opposes the construction of the infamous Ground Zero Mosque.

See, Harris isn’t like those pansy moderate Muslims who fail to “condemn extremists and try to seriously reform Islam.” He calls it like it is. Say thank you Muslims, he just saved Islam. Done and done.

Harris’ argument in opposition to the mosque is a simple one: Islam, as it currently exists, is objectionable. And “freedom-loving” Muslims haven’t done enough to change it. We can’t be sure what this Islamic cultural centre represents, because, well, we can’t trust what kind of Muslims these people are. Do they like freedom or do they hate it? Who knows? How can one trust the insidious claim that this mosque “seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences?” Like, do they mean reinforcing similarities by imposing Sharia law on Americans??

So, since Muslims haven’t done enough to change their religion and to encourage peaceful co-existence, we should deny them a tolerance-promoting mosque in Manhattan. Yeah, that’s really airtight logic: stop Muslims from building institutions that encourage reform because they haven’t encouraged reform!

Next, Harris proceeds to argue that true Islam is the vision advocated by al-Qaida and their ilk, not the mushy stuff moderates espouse.

The first thing that all honest students of Islam must admit is that it is not absolutely clear where members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, al-Shabab, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hamas, and other Muslim terrorist groups have misconstrued their religious obligations. If they are “extremists” who have deformed an ancient faith into a death cult, they haven’t deformed it by much. When one reads the Koran and the hadith, and consults the opinions of Muslim jurists over the centuries, one discovers that killing apostates, treating women like livestock, and waging jihad—not merely as an inner, spiritual struggle but as holy war against infidels—are practices that are central to the faith.

This line of argument I call the Bible Test, famously discredited by Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing.

Bartlet asks a Bible-thumping radio “doctor” if it’s okay to sell his daughter into slavery or to kill his Chief of Staff for working on the Sabbath, as the Bible prescribes, exposing the absurdity of taking religious texts literally. Harris is like the doctor in this case. He employs the same kind of literalism that al-Qaida does, which begs the question: is Harris a member of al-Qaida?

Harris then pulls out the big rhetorical guns and makes a last-ditch attempt to convince us to stop the mosque. He argues that “the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” In other words, the terrorists win if we build the mosque!

Yes, it’s undoubtedly a sign of cowardice to allow the free exercise of a faith with which you may not agree, but allow the free practice of. And it speaks to the decadence of a society if it does not judge people on the basis of their origins or their religious faith, but on their moral character and their adherence to law and liberty.

What are they smoking at The New Republic these days? Whatever it is, it’s potent enough to delude some of its writers to make up history.

In a blog post challenging Joe Klein’s newly professed aversion to preemptive and preventative war–that “we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack”–Jon Chait cooks up a pretty significant fact. Chait argues that if we apply Klein’s rule to U.S. foreign policy, then the U.S. would have had to rule out humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, the Gulf War, the Korean War, and “going to war against Germany in World War II.” As in, if we applied Klein’s rule, the Nazis would win! See, isn’t that a scary thought?

Except…Nazi Germany did pose an “immediate threat of attack.” On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, citing the Tripartite defence treaty between Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States only declared war after Germany’s declaration.

Now, there is a valid historical debate over whether President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration coaxed Nazi Germany into war by supporting the Allies (with programs such as the Lend-Lease Act), blatantly violating official neutrality, but there’s no question that it was Japan’s aggressions–followed by Germany’s threats–that led the United States into World War II.

In this morning’s Toronto Star, Liberal Party foreign policy critic Bob Rae has an op-ed calling for Canada’s continued engagement in Afghanistan–albeit at a political, not military, level. “Our political effort, with the needed appointment of a peace envoy to the region, should increase, and our aid should continue,” writes Rae.

Today, Dutch troops announced their formal departure after four years of combat in Afghanistan. And Canadian troops are scheduled to leave the country next year. After committing many of their young and billions in aid, NATO members are withdrawing, one country at a time. The largest troop contributor, the United States, is leaning towards the exit as well. According to the New York Times, President Obama seems committed to his “self-imposed” withdrawal deadline for July 2011.

So, it must be naturally asked, what does Canada do next in Afghanistan–the country’s largest foreign combat mission since the Korean War, and its largest recipient of bilateral foreign aid?

I admire Bob Rae greatly, both as a thinker and as a politician. And I respect him even more for broaching the morally contentious, politically divisive subject of a post-American/NATO Afghanistan. But his recommendations–that Canada appoint a peace envoy and increase aid–strike me as facile. Frankly, a post-American Afghanistan will be one of Pakistan’s making, with the Taliban back at the helm. The West’s ability to influence Afghan policies, which dwindles by the day, will be nil as soon as American troops part, leaving the free Taliban to impose their draconian laws once again.

Sending a peace envoy to a government that roundly despises you–and that will for years exploit NATO’s occupation for the purposes of propaganda–is rather naive. More naive is the suggestion that Canada not only continue giving aid to Afghanistan, but increase its aid. While humanitarian aid will always prove important in ill-governed Afghanistan, Rae imagines that our aid would “build schools to counter the madrassas, to allow women to take their place as equals.” It’s an admirable notion, but history tells us that the Taliban won’t allow these schools to stand and they won’t allow women to take their place as equals. Without a continued Western military presence–something I’m opposed to–we won’t be able to assure that any of our aid will reach the Afghan people, and we won’t be able to assure minority and women’s rights.

That sounds awfully tragic, but as Rae himself puts it, “real statecraft is understanding the limits of power and the real difficulties of exporting democracy.” Afghanistan is a crude lesson in learning that our power to control the destinies of those continents away from us, no matter how noble our intentions, are limited.

On a cold day in January 2009, in the tribal area of South Waziristan, Taliban and (possibly) Al-Qaida militants met to plot a response to a CIA drone attack on a senior Taliban commander. Huddled among them was “an older man and a very important person from ISI,” according to a field report from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Castle engineering group. That gentleman was a 72-year-old boisterous, mustached Hamid Gul, a retired Lieutenant General from the Pakistani army, who had served as the ISI’s head between 1987-1989.

In the West, Gul is cast as a dreary figure with “laser black eyes,” whose audacious pronouncements against the U.S.-led War on Terror and public support for the Taliban have led to attempts to label him an international terrorist. The attempt ultimately failed–due in part to scant definitive evidence, and in part to China’s interjection on Pakistan’s behalf. But, despite the looming threat to place him on a list of international terrorists, Gul continues to bluster in support of the Taliban.

“The Americans are defeated,” he told Al Jazeera English in an interview earlier this year. He went on, “[t]here is fatigue now…There is no way that the Americans can hold on to Afghanistan.” Gul should know: he helped orchestrate–with CIA funding and arms–the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan over two decades ago. It was during that time that he developed close relations with the mujahideen, who would later form the core of the Taliban, and with many of the Arab fighters, some of whom later joined extremist Islamist groups, including Al-Qaida.

His sympathy, and that of many of his ISI colleagues, for the Taliban stems from the years they spent in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan together, helping the Taliban create their Islamic Emirate, and at the same time, helping Pakistan gain “strategic depth”–which is Pakistani military lexicon for a friendly government in Afghanistan that would, during a war with India, allow Pakistan to regroup on Afghan soil.

The loquacious and hardened former ISI chief is to be found on nightly Pakistani political talk shows, decrying the government’s acquiescence to CIA drone strikes on Pakistani soil or its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is no stranger to foreign media either. Just after the Wikileaks story broke, accusing the ISI of “[guiding] the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand,” Gul jumped to the agency’s support. He denied ever meeting with the Taliban, and termed as “flawed” the intelligence briefs suggesting that Pakistan’s ISI was working against NATO and the U.S. in Afghanistan. To the BBC, he dismissed Wikileaks as “pure fiction which is being sold as intelligence.”

It is hard to believe that, on the one hand, Gul and the ISI sympathize with the Taliban and its goals, but, on the other, that they provide it no material support–even harder to believe, when considering that Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus is extremely active in the region and abroad. The ISI’s support for the Taliban is an open secret in Pakistan. When pushed on the topic of ISI-Taliban links, some well-informed Pakistanis will wryly admit it, and will follow up with a “so what?”, articulating the same argument put forth by Gul: the Americans will tire of war, and Pakistan will be left to deal with the mess. Isn’t it better, they say, that Pakistan hedge its bets now and support a pro-Pakistan Taliban insurgency?

Even in Washington and other Western capitals, the Wikileaks revelations–that the ISI provides support to the Taliban–are not treated as revelations at all. One blogger described the allegations akin to discovering that LeBron James was going to play for the Miami Heat. (He will, it’s old news.) Twitter was awash with sarcastic comments too, including one by the Washington Post‘s twitter handle, which purposefully placed quotation marks around the word “revelations.” Former State Department speechwriter, Michael Cohen, notes that the White House shrugged at the news as well: “National Security Advisor Jim Jones congratulates the Pakistani military for going after Taliban forces that killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians, but fails to mention the protection provided by Pakistan for the insurgent forces that are killing Afghan civilians and, of course, US troops.” Jones’ apparent mental trapeze act–flipping what should be grounds for condemnation into a statement congratulating Pakistan’s military–is evidence of Washington’s willful blind-eye to, even acceptance of, the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan. The revelations should have at least elicited a sharp rebuke, a statement that Pakistan should shape up–but it didn’t.

That it didn’t is perhaps indicative of an emerging consensus that an active military mission in Afghanistan will no longer serve the interests of the U.S. and NATO. Already, Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada have announced their intention to withdraw, sooner rather than later, from Afghanistan. And the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, is now calling the war in Afghanistan, “The Unwinnable War.” The hawkish American commentator Ann Coulter—notable for her desire to “invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity“—agreed with GOP Chairman Michael Steele’s assessment that the war in Afghanistan may prove difficult to win. Over 1000 casualties, $300 billion, and nine years later, Americans of all stripes are bound to ask if the war is still worth it.

And that fatigue and aversion to prolonged conflict in distant lands is something Hamid Gul and his ilk in the ISI understood far better than American politicians did. They grasped, early on in the war, that America would once again leave—as it abandoned them after the Soviet-Afghan war, and then later slapped a series of sanctions on the country. Whether their prescience is owed to sophisticated analysis or to mere ideological bias, in retrospect, they made the better bet. They knew better than the Bush administration that a diverse, rugged Afghanistan would not become the paragon of democracy the neocons imagined. They knew, also, that public support in America would wane, noting that the cost and the deaths of American lives was too cumbersome.

A war that was once touted as a just war–the right war, unlike Iraq–is today openly called a “morally ambiguous” one. And as the war grows unpopular by the day, questions arise about the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan. Will the Obama administration withdraw on schedule, and by doing so, cede ground to Pakistan and the Taliban? Or will it continue the fight, and risk alienating an already fatigued public?

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