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What Robert Gates Didn’t Say About Blackwater In Pakistan
Two Pakistani employees of an American defense contractor engaged by the US Embassy in Islamabad have been linked to two attacks on Pakistani military and the assassination of a Brigadier. If this is not alarming, then consider that US Ambassador Anne Patterson’s name has come up in an investigation where thousands of dollars were paid in bribes to Interior Ministry to smuggle illegal weapons into Pakistan. Not to mention how Washington is empowering India in Afghanistan at Pakistan’s cost. When Pakistan takes countermeasures, US officials like Mr. Gates and Mr. Holbrooke accuse Pakistan of ‘anti-Americanism’ and harassing US diplomats. Time for some straight talk.
AHMED QURAISHI | Saturday | 23 January 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—US Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted during an interview with a Pakistani TV station that Blackwater [now ‘Xe International’] and DynCorp are operating in Pakistan. Immediately after the statement, Pentagon tried to put a spin on his words.
But US meddling inside Pakistan –by posting private US defense contractors under diplomatic cover of the US embassy – is a reality for most Pakistanis. Some of these Americans have been caught disguised as Taliban right in the heart of Islamabad. Some Pakistanis were manhandled by some of these American militiamen on the streets of at least two Pakistani cities in recent months. Since Pakistan is not Iraq or Afghanistan despite all the US direct and indirect misinformation, these US covert operators were arrested on several occasions.
The mainstream US media continues to keep the good American people and the world opinion in the dark about this. But this is probably one of the biggest untold stories in America’s war on terror. This is about United States trying to put boots on the ground inside Pakistan through the help of a pro-US government in Islamabad that shares [or at least key figures in it] the US objective of containing and limiting the ability of Pakistan’s military to influence the country’s foreign policy. This is about Pakistan wanting to keep an independent foreign policy versus Pakistan blindly serving US policy on Afghanistan, India and China.
Mr. Gates tried to put a gloss on this US covert meddling when he said, ‘Well, they’re [Blackwater and DynCorp] operating as individual companies here in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in Iraq.’
Not true. The truth is that the issue is so serious that, according to Pakistani investigators, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson is a suspect in a case of bribes amounting to little over US $ 270,000 paid by DynCorp in 2009 to senior officials at the federal Interior Ministry in Pakistan. The money went in exchange for allowing illegal weapons into Pakistan to be used by private US defense contractors without informing the country’s security departments and intelligence agencies. Ms. Patterson personally lobbied Pakistani officials for this concession to DynCorp. She even wrote a letter to Pakistani officials, followed by a letter by her Deputy Head of Mission Mr. Gerald Feierstein, asking Pakistani Interior Ministry officials to issue permits for weapons to be used by DynCorp in the ‘entire territory of Pakistan.’ The US ambassador is directly linked to the probe, which has resulted in the arrest of a key aide to Pakistan’s Minister of State for the Interior. But the government of President Zardari will not dare allow Pakistani investigators to pursue US Ambassador’s role in the scandal.
A key question in the probe is how the US Embassy and DynCorp allowed the cargo of illegal weapons into Pakistan. According to one lead, a huge cache of weapons reached a Pakistani tribal leader on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, who in turn wrote to the Interior Ministry announcing he was ‘gifting’ the weapons to a Pakistani subcontractor of DynCorp.
Incidents like this and others raised alarm bells inside Pakistani security departments and the intelligence community. In effect, key figures in President Zardari’s government were found to have given approval for the entry of a large number of US citizens into Pakistan for ‘official US government business’ without explaining what that is. When Pakistani authorities tried to get to the bottom of how private US defense contractors ended up inside Pakistan in large numbers and what they were exactly doing here, US officials and media launched what appears to be a media trial of Pakistan, accusing the country of ‘harassing’ US diplomats and denying visas to them because of alleged anti-Americanism.
The unwillingness of the Zardari government to confront Washington and Pakistan’s generally weak media outreach skills allowed Washington to pain this as a case of anti-Americanism fueled by war on terror.
‘Conspiracy theories’ is another label that US officials and media have increasingly used recently as a cover to hide serious violations of diplomatic norms and sovereignty involving undercover private US operatives inside Pakistan. This is how the Wall Street Journal tried to delegitimize serious Pakistani concerns raised during Mr. Gates’ visit in a report filed from Islamabad whose opening line read as follows, “U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is overseeing wars with Sunni militants in Iraq and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, he’s facing a different foe: the pervasive conspiracy theories that fuel widespread anti-American feelings here.”
The truth is that there are no conspiracy theories but real events, reported and documented, that raise questions over US political, diplomtic, and covert meddling inside Pakistan. Here is a list:
NUCLEAR ESPIONAGE: In July 2009, four US ‘diplomats’ were arrested inside the maximum security perimeter around Pakistan’s premier nuclear facility at Kahuta. They failed to tell Pakistani investigators what they were doing there and how they managed to slip through the security checkpoints in the area. US Embassy intervened to rescue the four ‘diplomats’ after almost three hours in detention, citing diplomatic immunity. President Zardari’s government refused to let Pakistani security authorities press charges.
SUSPICIOUS CONDUCT: On Oct. 6, 2009, Pakistani police arrested two Dutch diplomats roaming the streets of Islamabad without a number plate carrying advanced weapons. Pakistani police were surprised when security personnel from the US Embassy reached the scene to rescue the Dutch. The Americans used their contacts within the Zardari government to get everyone released. Later, Pakistan Foreign Office summoned US and Dutch diplomats for a private meeting over the incident. But the Pakistani government refused to demand a public explanation from US and Dutch diplomats despite recommendations from police and security officials.
FACILITATING INDIAN ACTIVITIES: In this high profile case in May 2009, a US diplomat arranged a small meeting between an Indian diplomat and several senior Pakistani federal government officials at a private house. The invited Pakistanis worked in civilian positions, including one with access to Prime Minister’s Office. It appeared that the US diplomat was basically facilitating the Indian to meet senior officials who otherwise would be inaccessible for him. Pakistan Foreign Office took serious exception to the meeting, publicly reprimanded the Pakistani officials who attended the meeting but stopped short of seeking explanation from the US embassy. According to Pakistani investigators, for a US diplomat to indulge in facilitating possible espionage linked to an Indian diplomat was a matter of grave concern. It also fitted with the US policy of exercising tremendous pressure on the pro-US government in Islamabad to give concessions to India at the expense of Pakistani strategic interests.
COVERT US MILITIAS IN THE HEART OF PAKISTAN: In September 2009, undercover US agents were found to have recruited a total of 100 former elite Pakistani military commandos to create rapid-intervention teams for unknown purposes. A 100 more were under training at a secret facility camouflaged as a workshop on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital when it was raided by Pakistani police. It turned out that DynCorp was training the men. US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson brought DynCorp to Pakistan by telling Pakistani officials that the private defense contractor would provide security to embassy buildings. But she never explained why DynCorp was secretly raising private militias on Pakistani soil without informing the Pakistani government or military or the intelligence agencies. Some of those who were under training at the time of the raid said that DynCorp focused on recruiting retired officers who had links and contacts within the Pakistani military and could glean information from their sources. [See video and pictures]
PUSHY US DIPLOMATS: The US Embassy in Islamabad has made it its business to mount pressure on owners of Pakistani newspapers to curtail or expel columnists and commentators critical of US policy. Of special target are those who expose how US Embassy is meddling in Pakistani affairs and expanding the US footprint inside Pakistan. Last year, Ambassador Patterson sent a letter to one of the largest Pakistani media groups accusing a columnist of endangering American lives and succeeded in pushing her out. The US Embassy is also recruiting opinion makers within the Pakistani media, academia and military in order to promote the US agenda even at the cost of Pakistani interests, dismissing critics as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and accusing them of anti-Americanism. A senior Pakistani journalist Syed Talat Hussain exposed US activities in the following words, “Pro-American lobby in Pakistan is growing in direct proportion to the scaling up of suspicions about the US. The main task of this lobby is to reduce the complexity of the US’s objectives towards Pakistan to romantic levels of trust (…) A motley crew of former diplomats, retired generals, socialites, slick civil society begums, self-styled analysts, businessmen, journalists, and now also lawyers — they are the darlings of the US embassy staff. They are the instruments of positive outreach and public diplomacy that US diplomats are so keen to expand in Pakistan.”
HARASSING PAKISTANIS: Private US security contractors, or militiamen, have been involved in at least three incidents registered by the Pakistani police where armed Americans physically assaulted unarmed ordinary Pakistanis in public places. In one case, the nephew of a senior member of President Zardari’s own government was manhandled and locked up in the toilet of a gas station by men described as armed military-looking civilian Americans.
RESISTING POLICE CHECKS: In at least five incidents, US ‘diplomats’ disguised as Taliban, complete with beards and Pashto language skills, were stopped at several police checkpoints in Islamabad and Peshawar. In some cases, these American ‘diplomats’ tried to speed through police barriers. In one recent case, this resulted in a brief police chase, where a Pakistani officer dragged the US ‘diplomats’ back to the police picket and forced the Americans to apologize to Pakistani police officers. Again, no charges were pressed because these private US agents carried diplomatic passports.
ENGINEEING DOMESTIC POLITICS: As recently as December 2009, US ambassador in Islamabad was found meeting senior Pakistani politicians at private homes of mutual friends in unannounced meetings restricted to 3 to 4 persons. The ambassador asked her guests to publicly support the embattled pro-US President Zardari. US diplomats in Islamabad and officials in Washington have been blatantly interfering in Pakistani politics. In addition to helping form the incumbent coalition government in Islamabad, made up of pro-US parties, US officials have been busy trying to save both Mr. Zardari and his key political adviser and ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani. US officials in Washington have been briefing sympathetic US journalists about this. In one case, columnist Trudy Rubin had this to say while discussing Pakistan in an article published last month: “Here is the first piece of good news: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari seems to have weathered a campaign by opponents, including the military, to force him out of office. Zardari has deep flaws, but his ouster would have hampered efforts to fight the jihadis. So would the removal, now averted, of Pakistan’s effective ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, whom the Pakistani military had unfairly blamed for conditions that Congress imposed on aid to Pakistan.”
BRIBES AND ILLEGAL WEAPONS: This case is stunning because of the direct involvement of US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson in lobbying for DynCorp. The company ended up bribing Interior Ministry officials to smuggle banned weapons into Pakistan and then went on to raise private militias and hire retired Pakistani military officers to run rapid deployment teams and possibly even spy on the Pakistani military.
DEMONIZATION OF PAKISTAN: Since 2007, US officials and US media has systematically demonized Pakistan worldwide, creating false alarm over Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. US officials and media have also pushed to bracket Pakistan along with Iraq and Afghanistan in order to justify a possible military intervention. When Pakistan resisted US meddling recently, US media again went on rampage, accusing Pakistan of ‘anti-Americanism’ and harassment of US diplomats. Additionally, there has been a marked increase of lectures and studies by US think-tanks inviting unknown separatist individuals and groups to speak and fan ethnic separatism inside Pakistan and theorize on the breakup of the country.
ABETTING TERROR INSIDE PAKISTAN: The suspicions about why DynCorp was secretly raising private militias inside the federal Pakistani capital almost turned real when a suspect in the attack on the Pakistani military headquarters in October 2009 was allegedly found to have been recruited by DynCorp. In a second case, another suspected DynCorp recruit was found involved in assassinating a senior Pakistani military officer as he drove to work. In other words, two Pakistani employees of a US defense contractor engaged by the US embassy have been linked to two terrorist attacks on the Pakistani military. Add to this that Pakistan’s military and intelligence are a favorite punching bag for the United States and its allies, like India and Britain, and the picture of what the US is doing in Pakistan becomes even more disturbing.
These points explain how ill-motivated the US complaints about delaying visas and alleged anti-Americanism in Pakistan are. This is what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Gates are loath to share with the American people and the world public opinion.
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