Anne Patterson's 'Blackwater-Gate'

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When people would obsess over the supposed clandestine take-over of Pakistan by the security firm formerly known as Blackwater (now Xe), I often wished that they be that animated over the problem of drinking water in our country.

I now feel that my dismissiveness was entirely wrong. It looked like a conspiracy theorist's dream to me initially, a private army outside the remit of the law doing the bidding of the Americans in Pakistan.

Well, the definitive truth is now out; it is present in Pakistan. It may not be doing some of the more ridiculous assertions attributed to its operations in the country by an opportunistic Taliban, like carrying out suicide bombings, but Blackwater is here. It shouldn't be.

Follow up:

The January edition of Vanity Fair 2010 (they operate with a crazy dating system) has a feature of Blackwater founder Erik Prince by Adam Ciralsky (who accompanied him on trips to overseas Blackwater operations). Erik Prince has been a media shy-figure; not much was known about him for sure until this interview, which he did presumably because Blackwater has suffered from terrible PR in the US and around the world as war profiteers and mercenaries.

In the piece by Ciralsky, Erik Prince confirms his relationship with the CIA in a foreign assassination programme, working in Pakistan to load Hellfire missiles onto drones and in Afghanistan (where they are present close to the border). The US ambassador in Afghanistan is protected by Blackwater.

That's a slap in the face admission against the statement of the US Ambassador Anne Patterson that the firm was not operating in the country just this November. With the recent exhortations for Pakistan to do more against the Taliban, this is rich coming from a nation that is outsourcing some of its war effort.

The US needs to realise that they have not occupied Pakistan, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan who were not able, therefore, to articulate their positions to their new masters. Pakistan is still relatively free, and Pakistanis have a legitimate concern given the trigger-happy, allegedly bribing and illegal weapons smuggling prone company that Blackwater is.

If the international community wants to see Pakistan as a country that can overcome its problems with the murderous hordes of the Taliban, then there is only one long-term solution which is affecting the rule of law. That cannot be done seriously if the US has no interest in it.

There are now monthly reports of US officials or their contractors who are let free after being found with illegal weapons. Smacking us in the face with such impunity does not engender rule of law.

When Hillary Clinton came to Pakistan, she said she wanted a new beginning of trust. How she achieves that with an ambassador who brazenly misleads Pakistani media is anyone's guess.

If there are Blackwater personnel doing more than Erik Prince's admission that they operate loading missiles for drones, what happens if they use lethal force when they mistakenly sense danger and kill innocent Pakistanis? Once again, rule of law will be undermined severely because we know from the experience in Iraq that they will not be tried locally.

The article mentions Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan as one of the people who was considered an assassination target by the CIA, presumably through Blackwater. While the source for that nugget is not given in the story (Erik Prince does not verify this in the article; it is an aside by the author), again, Pakistan has demonstrated that it can use its own legal recourse to apprehend someone who is accused of wrong-doing. While what Pakistan may have done in the case of Dr Qadeer is obviously an imperfect compromise if evidence against him holds up, but at least it has prevented further proliferation.

There is no denying that the Americans need their own security in Pakistan. Unfortunately, some Taliban success against military targets has bolstered their case. But they need to come clean what their security is and under what remit it will operate in the country to prevent the further accumulation of the anti-US sentiment, and also to protect Pakistani lives. Any incident will not stop at just the lives lost in it, but conflagrate into mob violence soon after when the demagogues take to the streets.

I wonder if Anne Patterson is using the Bill Clinton defense, when he tried to wiggle out of confessing to an extra-marital affair by claiming that oral acts do not cover that definition. Is she denying Blackwater (which technically doesn't exist anymore), by evading responses on Xe? If that is the case, it is disingenuous and untrustworthy.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe (which is short for Xenon, an inert element) to appear harmless in the wake of bad press around the world. Maybe they should have changed their name to Hydro, which would not refer to a neutral, water-like substance but hydrogen, the most inflammable of elements.

SOURCE: The News, The Pakistan report card, Fasi Zaka, Friday, December 04, 2009