« »

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Blackwater is in Pakistan.

Over the past few weeks, the Pakistani media — both electronic and print — has been fuelled with reports about the presence of “overbearing” American officials including diplomats in Islamabad and the mysterious invasion of Blackwater personnel.
Founded in 1997 in North Carolina, Blackwater — rechristened Xe (pronounced Zee) Worldwide — is perhaps, the largest network in the world that trains 40,000 mercenaries a year, mostly from US or foreign military and police personnel.
Primed for military offensive as well as defensive operation, it works under the aegis of a private security agency, which helps camouflage its specified mission.
Admittedly, in a country, where conspiracy theories are a staple diet it would be easy to dismiss these as such but increasingly, it appears there is enough smoke to have triggered the fire.
News reports of US diplomats being repeatedly found carrying unlicenced weapons and manhandling Pakistani citizens and misbehaving with law enforcement agencies have caused Pakistanis deep anxiety with the intelligentsia questioning their motives and Islamabad’s own state of denial on the matter.
The Nation, a leading English daily, reported last week that senior US diplomats have been found with unlicenced arms on at least five different occasions in Islamabad and when netted let alone surrender these, the diplomats were said to have abused the police force.
A Pakistani citizen was beaten up by two American diplomats at Islamabad’s up-end Super Market for parking his car near their vehicle!
This was followed by the brief arrest of four Americans on August 25 at Federal Investigation Agency headquarters in Islamabad on charges of keeping illegal automatic weapons (seven MI-6).
The arresting officials revealed the Americans to be Blackwater personnel. The powerful embassy used its clout with Islamabad to set them free within hours.
“Their attitude was so derogatory and they were behaving with such contempt as if we were their slaves,” the police officials told the paper.
An account in The News, Pakistan’s leading English daily, last week reported how another citizen had been thrashed in Islamabad’s Aabpara market by three Americans, who eventually apologised under fear of registration of a case but their fears proved unfounded when the police did not register a case against the offenders, after all.
The authorities felt it was a futile exercise given that a previous case registered by a police official, who endured violence and abuse at the hands of a US diplomat in the Diplomatic Enclave had come to naught.
A US embassy spokesman showed ignorance on the matter and referred the concerned reporter to “your Pakistani authorities, who have a better understanding of this matter”. The embassy customarily uses such modus operandi to tide over issues in the public domain, which many critics suggest, allow the Americans to play the field without having to offer an explanation.
However, with the massive expansion - a billion-dollar plan according to McClatchy - of what is already the largest embassy in the world and heavy reinforcement of personnel including Marines (whose figure has been reported in the range of 350 to a thousand but which Ambassador Anne Patterson limits to 20), Pakistanis are concerned at what’s cooking.
A Miami Herald report recently quoted the US embassy officials as saying it had 250 American officials on long-term contracts and another 200 on short-term assignments and felt the compound was cramped for space.
However, what has brought the cocktail to the brim is the reported sightings of Blackwater personnel in Pakistan — from Islamabad to Peshawar.
At least two popular TV hosts, Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan, have attempted to expose the likely shape of things to come but not without the consequences many in Pakistan feared it would entail.
In a departure from the standard “all is quiet on the embassy front”, recently the US ambassador wrote to the Jang Group, Pakistan’s largest media enterprise, objecting to the television content as well as taking a particularly strong line against its newspaper columnist, Dr Shireen Mazari, a very well-informed defence analyst known for her chutzpah.
The US envoy argued that the TV footage endangered the lives of her compatriots after pictures of homes in Islamabad allegedly occupied by CIA, FBI or Xe Worldwide personnel was aired by Jang Group’s flagship channel, Geo.
Since then, two other private TV channels, Dunya (The World) and Aaj (Today) have also aired footage to augment the Blackwater claim.
Privately, a source revealed anchor Hamid Mir was even warned of dire consequences should anything happen to an American national as a result of the depiction. It followed damning reports in the media and on the Internet about the activities of USAID contractor Craig Davis based in Peshawar, who is alleged to be an undercover agent.
Ambassador Patterson’s intervention appeared to create a sudden but deep cleavage between Dr Shireen Mazari and the Jang Group, for whose paper The News, she wrote for years on foreign policy and defence issues.
A fortnight ago, the paper held back her widely read column for a day — for purposes of clarification on certain points, according to the paper’s management — but it prompted Mazari to go public with the pressure tactics employed by the American envoy.
The paper however, did carry the Op-ed piece the next day, explaining the delay. In what turned out to be her last piece for the paper, Mazari appeared to know her fate in reference to the US pressure regime.
“This scribe as well as some electronic media hosts — all of whom have been exposing the increasing muscle flexing of non-diplomatic Americans now in Pakistan are being targeted. I knew it was simply a matter of time when I would be liberated from all official strangleholds.”
These developments are unlikely to endear Washington’s policies to the Pakistani public — a majority of which has, in opinion polls conducted by Al Jazeera and Pew Research Centre last month, cited the US as their biggest enemy.
They are also incensed by the leadership in Islamabad for being in a perpetual state of denial. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a passing mention during an interaction with the media in Peshawar last week, simply saying there were no Blackwater personnel in Pakistan.
It still leaves the question about what to make of TV footage of specified houses, which drew the ire of the US envoy, and mysterious emergence of huge concrete blocks in front of some posh residences in Islamabad.  

No comments:

Post a Comment