Dec 10, 2009

Wooing – and actions

By Zafar Khalid Farooq

During the height of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, bars in Boston, Massachusetts would sell drinks called “car bomb” and “kill a Brit” — the profit from which would go to doing just that. Cheers it wasn’t. The US was the largest financial contributor to IRA terrorism outside of Ireland, and along with Libya, the main supplier of weapons. The US government even granted visas to the leadership of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and invited them to the White House, against the expressed wishes of the British government. However, at no point did the British government impinge the sovereignty or rule of law of the Americans by sending crack teams of SAS soldiers into Boston’s bars to “grab and snatch” the financiers of terrorist atrocities. Had it done so, all hell would have broken loose.

Yet, this is actually what is happening in Pakistan according to revelations made recently in the US publication The Nation. Yet, we in Pakistan remain supine to the Americans. According to a report by Jeremy Scahill, who has written the definitive book on Blackwater, members of an elite division from Blackwater (Xe) based in Karachi are at the centre of a secret programme in which they plan targeted assassination of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside of Pakistan. In another revelation, in this month’s Vanity Fair, Blackwater founder Erik Prince confirms the private security firm’s involvement in Pakistan, loading Hellfire missiles onto drones and guarding US ambassador Anne Patterson.

Only last month, when asked about the recent slew of reports about Blackwater in Pakistan, Ms Patterson denied their presence saying it was frankly the frenzy and the conspiracy theories that proliferate in the Pakistani media. She said it was the work of some people who didn’t want a closer relationship between Pakistan and the United States. And yet, here we have confirmation, from none other than the head of Blackwater himself, that they are operating in Pakistan.

Blackwater’s presence in Karachi performing covert operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets is severely worrying. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan has not been conquered by the US. This blatant disregard for Pakistan’s sovereignty proves that, despite Obama’s public wooing of the Islamic world, little has changed in attitude from the previous administration. When, during the Bush administration, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told President Musharraf to “be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,” it was widely perceived as the arrogance and imperious bluster of a neo-con regime. Is the Obama administration any better?

How can we have a new beginning of trust with the US, as Hilary Clinton was advocating on her recent trip to Pakistan, when the US operates a “Do what I say, not what I do” policy towards Pakistan.

But these revelations are also damaging to Pakistan in the long term. For too long, many of us in the media have been battling the ultranationalists, conspiracy theorist and Taliban deniers. We have been arguing forcibly that the Islamist threat is our problem and our war. That our nation’s denial of personal responsibility in this war – ‘it’s them, not us (them being Hindus, Jews, Americans, etc – has crippled our growth and ability to tackle the problem. This toxic victim narrative embedded in the minds of many Pakistanis, and propagated by some in the media, has proved alarmingly resilient to rational argument. Well, our job has just got a lot harder.

Blackwater’s presence will only reinforce the belief that this is America’s war – not ours. Thanks to these policies, credence has now been given to those who argue, like Imran Khan, that it’s the drone attacks and American intervention in Pakistan that is fuelling the extremism engulfing our country. Winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis and reducing the trust deficit has now become far more difficult.

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