Blackwater: Widening the rift
Posted by Sana Saleem in Featured Articles, Politics on 09 22nd, 2009 22 responses
Conspiracy theories have always had high currency in our part of the world and ritual cynicism towards America is quite usual. Recent reports claiming the presence of CIA’s contractual army – Blackwater – in Pakistan have bolstered concerns within the Pakistani public about US involvement in this country’s affairs. It’s high time, though, that the government came clean with the public about the extent of US involvement in this country’s security affairs..Blackwater is a private mercenary company which is known to have worked with the CIA on various occasions, including the Iraq war. Rumours claiming that Pakistan is its new home have triggered quite a lot of commotion. It all begin with reports claiming that Blackwater (now known as Xe) had been operating in Pakistan as a vital tool for America’s counterterrorism program.
Jeremy Scahill, the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, recently wrote an elaborate piece on the possible involvement of Blackwater inside Pakistan. Scahill talks about the notorious history of the organisation and goes on to suggest that it has been playing a vital role in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2002, acting as a key player in arming drone aircrafts.
Scahill also quotes former employees who claim that Blackwater’s owner, Prince Erik, ‘views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.’ The allegations quite literally portray Blackwater as a Christian Al Qaeda. Not surprisingly, the presence of such a force in Pakistan is disturbingly provocative.
The speculations relate back to last September, when the Marriott Hotel blast occurred in Islamabad. Various reports suggested that an undercover operation by US marines was being planned when the attack happened. However, such allegations have been repeatedly denied.
According to a report in The New York Times, Blackwater has been actively involved in CIA’s counterterrorism program in Pakistan. The group primarily works from hidden bases across the country. So far, Blackwater has only been associated with arming the drones:
Blackwater contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by C.I.A. employees. They also provide security at the covert bases.
The thought of the CIA hiring a contractual army to arm its drones is baffling. Apart from stirring panic, though, the news reports have not been able to provide any new insights. After all, the claims regarding the drones being parked and armed inside Pakistan has been in the air for quite sometime.
Irrespective of the extent of Blackwater’s work in Pakistan, the list of things being denied by the Pakistani authorities is growing ridiculously long. The possible agreement between Pakistan and the CIA over drones has been dismissed as a speculation far too many times. Not only have the Pakistani authorities gone as far as denying any mutual contract, but have also extended meek condemnations as attacks continued. This has not only incited more anti-American sentiments, but has also raised grave questions about the integrity of the authorities and the military.
The fact is, even as the government continues denying it various dealings with the United States, Pakistanis are becoming more sceptical and harder to convince. A poll conducted by a blog numerates the reaction of people towards the Blackwater conspiracy. Although only about 250 people have participated, the statistics speak for themselves. A significant 87 per cent said they were aware of Blackwater’s reputation; 78 per cent claimed to be aware of the outfit’s presence in Pakistan; 82 per cent believed Blackwater’s purpose is to destabilise Pakistan; and over 91 per cent believe that this is a serious threat to the sovereignty of the country.
The disconnect between the government’s denials and the public’s beliefs are a reminder that the power, rights and concerns of the people have always been underestimated and continue to be neglected. But how long can this go on? The clear rift between the people and the authorities, especially in matters concerning foreign policy, is no secret. Constant negligence reflects the stature of democracy in the country.
Whether Blackwater is established in Pakistan remains a mystery. In the meantime, drone attacks continue to get more aggressive. Regardless of the truth behind the conspiracy, gaining back the Pakistani public’s faith is where the real battle begins. The authorities will either take this opportunity to come clean and stop the double game, or repeat the mistakes of the past. The current situation on the ground in Pakistan demands the government to define the nature, extent, diversity, and commonality of objectives with the US once and for all.
After all, living in a state of denial and mistrust will destabilise Pakistan to a far greater extent than US intervention.
Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Pro-Pakistan her personal blog Mystified Justice. She tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.