guest post by Ghaffar Hussain of Quilliam Foundation
So Wikileaks has published a ‘treasure trove’ of classified documents on Afghanistan which has got journalists very excited. But what new information has been revealed? Civilian causalities are being under-reported? Pakistan and Iran have been assisting the Taliban? Taliban leaders are being hunted and killed without a trail? Things are generally going badly?
None of this is news and it merely confirms what has already been reported in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that these leaks are insignificant. In fact, they are very significant in the realm of public perceptions.
The Afghanistan campaign has been compared to Vietnam in the past, often much to the irritation of military officials. But that comparison will become very difficult to ignore now with this leak. In 1971, the New York Times published excerpts of a secret document called United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense.
This document, amongst other things, revealed that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the US public about the reasons for the Vietnam War and their continued presence in that part of the world. This revelation galvanized the anti-war movement like never before and street protests followed.
Similarly, it is highly probable that this leak could spell the start of the end for the campaign in Afghanistan as far as public support is concerned. The revelations about civilian causalities being under-reported, is perhaps the most damaging of all and almost certainly will have a huge impact on public perceptions.
It will also become a propaganda tool for al-Qaeda and the Taliban recruiters.
Some may point to opinion polls which suggest that the vast majority of Afghans do support the presence of coalition forces in their country.
But that misses the point. Without support from the British and American public this campaign cannot be successful and these leaks will go a long way towards undermining that. The unwinnable war may just have got a bit more unwinnable.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Middle East