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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Anti-Americanism rises in Pakistani media rumor mill

For weeks now, Pakistan's media have portrayed the United States, its military and defense contractors in the darkest of light, part of an apparent campaign of anti-American vilification that is sweeping the country and, some say, putting American lives at risk.
Pakistanis are reacting to what many see as an "imperial" U.S. presence, with Washington dictating to Pakistan's military and government. Polls find Pakistanis see their nation's top donor, officially a close ally, as instead a hostile power.
Pakistan's media has been filled with stories of undercover U.S. agents, a huge U.S. Marine contingent coming to the embassy and Blackwater private security running amok.
The U.S. mission in Islamabad had to present three August briefings to Pakistani journalists to dampen highly charged stories, which could undermine relations as Washington prepares to finalize a tripling of civilian aid to Islamabad, to $1.5 billion a year.
Pakistan is a key priority for the United States because of its nuclear arms and potential usefulness in taking on al-Qaida within its borders and ending the Afghan Taliban safe haven.
"I think this recent brouhaha over the embassy expansion has been difficult to beat back," U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said in an interview last week. She said Pakistan's media "just seems to be taken over by conspiracy theories."
Briefing Pakistani journalists last month, Ms. Patterson told them there were only nine Marines stationed to guard the Islamabad embassy and, even after an upcoming expansion, their number would be no more than 15 to 20. Press reports had put the figure at 350 to 1,000 Marines. She also stated flatly that "Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan."
Ms. Patterson wrote last week to the owner of Pakistan's biggest media group, Jang, to protest two talk shows on its Geo TV channel. She also cricitized a newspaper column by analyst Shireen Mazari in The News, a daily, saying the "wildly incorrect" column and shows compromised Americans' security.
There are 250 U.S. citizens posted at the Islamabad mission on longer-term contracts, plus another 200 on shorter assignments, the embassy said. The present embassy compound can accommodate just a fraction of them. By independent estimates, U.S. officials live in some 200 houses throughout Islamabad.
Pakistani press and bloggers also targeted U.S. aid worker Craig Davis, insisting that he is an undercover secret agent. Mr. Davis, a USAID development contractor, is based in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar and now appears to be at risk. Last year, American Stephen Vance, another USAID contractor in Peshawar, was gunned down outside his home.
"In one or two cases," Ms. Patterson said, "these commentators have identified very specific embassy employees as CIA or Blackwater, and that very much puts the employee at danger. In at least one case, we're going to have to evacuate the employee."

Read more:http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09251/996344-82.stm#ixzz0RAjPgpTc


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