When things go boom in the night, Pakistanis blame Blackwater
The US says it doesn't work with the security firm Blackwater in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government insists no Blackwater employees are working in the country. But many Pakistanis doubt those assertions, complicating US efforts to build trust.
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Or at least that's what large numbers of Pakistanis appear to believe.
It sounds like textbook conspiracy theory. But in a country that’s already highly suspicious of the US and the notorious security firm, rumors that germinated in small circles have spread nationwide and taken root among mainstream journalists and intellectuals.
For many Pakistanis, the tales confirm that America at best cannot be trusted. For the US, they create another wall of resistance to convincing Pakistanis the US is an ally, one that desperately needs their help fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
These days “any embassy vehicle that’s got men who are in good shape seem to be Blackwater,” says US Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire. “It certainly makes getting our message across more challenging."
Mr. Snelshire says he fields as many as 20 calls a day when especially scandalous reports about Blackwater (which has rebranded itself as Xe) hit newsstands. He says the embassy only employs security contractors from a different firm, DynCorp, and only to train Pakistanis as security guards.
When asked if Blackwater or Xe worked for any other branch of the US or Pakistani government, he writes in an e-mail, “I would refer you to Ambassador [Anne] Patterson’s statement that ‘we do not use Blackwater or Xe in Pakistan.’ On the question of whether or not Blackwater or Xe have any private contracts or contracts with the Government of Pakistan I would refer you to Blackwater/XE.”
Three calls to the company were not returned.
History of distrust
Many of the stories circulating about Blackwater are far from substantiated. Even Awab Alvi, an early adopter of the rumors who tracks the topic on his blog, says that “there’s no concrete evidence” and that “of the 50 reports that come through, maybe one or two are right.” Many accounts come from the Pakistani paper The Nation, which last year drew criticism for calling an American journalist a spy, forcing him to leave the country.
But like many Pakistanis, Dr. Alvi can tick off decades’ worth of reasons not to give the US the benefit of the doubt – and why rumors of secret US-backed operations might find a receptive audience.
In the 1980s, the narrative goes, the US propped up dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq as an ally against the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the war ended, the US withdrew, leaving Pakistanis to cope with the guns, drugs, and refugees that spilled into their territory.