Blackwater’s Pakistan connection
Its been a busy news week – thankyou Faisal Shahzad for keeping everyone occupied – and so this report on The Mercenary Organisation Formally Known as Blackwater and Now Known as Xe went somewhat unnoticed.
Jeremy Scahill at The Nation wrote about a speech Erik Prince – the founder of Xe – gave recently. The entire article is worth reading, but I’m going to focus on the Pakistan aspect.
Prince scornfully dismissed the debate on whether armed individuals working for Blackwater could be classified as “unlawful combatants” who are ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention. “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”
It is significant that Prince mentioned his company operating in Pakistan given that Blackwater, the US government and the Pakistan government have all denied Blackwater works in Pakistan.
Who are ‘these people’?
Earlier this year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Pakistani news channel Express 24/7 that Blackwater did have a presence in the country, after weeks and months of denying that the contractors had a presence. Here’s what Gates said: (As Scahill pointed out in a post on The Nation, the Defense Department attempted to clarify that comment)
Q All right. And I want to talk, of course, about another issue that has come up and again — (inaudible) — about the foreign security companies that have been operating in Iraq, in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. Xe International, formerly known as Blackwater or Dyn Corp. Under what rules are they operating here in Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, they’re operating as individual companies here in Pakistan. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, because they are theaters of war involving the United States, there are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they’re contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.
The Blackwater theory has been brought up again in the past few weeks because of the UN report investigating the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. While the report has nothing to do with Blackwater, there are several rumours that have done the rounds since BB’s death that she had been recommended to use Blackwater for her personal security while she was in Pakistan. The rumour is also repeated by the French lawyer Jacques Verges in a new book by Benazir Bhutto’s niece, Fatima Bhutto.
Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan has been talked about endlessly – it has also made for some of the worst reporting to have come out of Pakistan and contributed to the general sense of paranoia in the country.
Here’s an example:
When militants attacked the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in October 2009, this was their list of demands
- Halt of operation in northern areas
- Accountability of former President Pervez Musharraf
- Return of Blackwater
- Closure of Western NGOs
Even more interestingly – and I wish I had a link to corroborate this – but I believe a Rawalpindi resident told a Pakistani news channel that the GHQ attack was carried out by ‘foreigners’ in cars with tinted windows. This is the level to which paranoia about Blackwater has steeped into Pakistani society.
But that paranoia has to be separated from the fact that there is something truly murky about the way Blackwater works (apparently) in Pakistan. This March, three American soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy, questions lingered about their identity initially because they were not identified as soldiers to local journalists travelling with them.
The issue could simply benefit from someone just admitting who has outsourced operations to Blackwater, what exactly are they doing in Pakistan, and are there any checks and balances in place? (Though this may answer some of those questions). While hoping for any answer is utterly naive given that Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister has categorically denied the organization works in the country, it wouldn’t hurt to go back to the basics.
No one wants a repeat of Nissour Square.