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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“I have a problem with the government constantly lying about these things,” says Asif Akhtar, a blogger based in Lahore, adding that it has undermined its credibility.Skip to next paragraph
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When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Islamabad in January, Pakistani media seized on what appeared to be an admission that Blackwater was indeed operating here. In response the Defense Department issued a statement saying it “does not use Blackwater in Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s government denies any Blackwater presence, as Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani reiterated last week. Interior Minister Rehman Malik famously vowed last November to resign if proved wrong. The speculation has spiraled to the point that “anybody traveling with white skin is considered to be Blackwater,” he told Dawn last week.
‘A lot of evidence’
Repeated denials, however, have not stemmed rumors of policemen pulling over carloads of Americans with weapons, nor quashed speculation that these people are Blackwater. Instead, the belief has gained currency as Western media have reported that Blackwater is working for the CIA in Pakistan.
In August, The New York Times said the firm was operating on secret bases in the country to load bombs onto the drones fired at the tribal areas – a contract the CIA acknowledged in December by saying it had been canceled.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Blackwater head Erik Prince detailed his firm’s partnerships with the CIA, including training agents to assassinate Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan. A November report in the American publication The Nation claimed that Blackwater employees were plotting assassinations from a base in Karachi and training Pakistani forces, and sometimes conducting raids with them, in the northwest.
“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Blackwater was operating in Pakistan under a different name,” says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad who is frequently cited in Western media.
Mr. Hussain says he is 100 percent sure Blackwater is operating in Pakistan. “Even when the CIA says they have terminated contracts with them, there is no guarantee that these guys will not resurface,” he says. “What has appeared in public is only the tip of the iceberg.”