of a tough trial
war to vote
The killing of Adbur Rehman Baloch aka Rehman Dakait has raised doubts about the police encounter and the 'beneficiaries' of his death
By Xari Jalil
Now that one of Karachi's most notorious gangsters, Abdur Rehman Baloch popularly known as Rehman Dakait, is dead there are many unanswered questions as to what will happen next in Lyari, especially with regard to the law and order and political situation.
Police authorities maintain that it was an encounter that killed him along with three of his friends on the morning of August 10, 2009. The public reaction in Lyari, however, has led the common man to question the authenticity of the police encounter, and the injustice of it.
Lyari is one of the oldest localities of Karachi, comprising a diverse population of Baloch people along with Makranis and Sindhis. Because of the confined spaces, and the high level of poverty in the area, along with lack of development, the area has always been prone to crime infestation. Though drug businesses and gangsters have prevailed since even before the 1960s, it was much later (1990s) that it was termed a 'no-go area' for the common man, because of the constant gang wars between the two leading groups led by Rehman Dakait and Arshad Pappu.
The gang wars have claimed over 2000 lives since 2001-2008. The injured who came to Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) when would be injured by weapons of all kinds, varying from pistols to Klashnikov's and sometimes even rocket launchers. The gang wars abruptly cooled down after Dakait and Ghaffar Zikri, Pappu's main operational man in Lyari, shook hands with each other in a 'dialogue of peace.'
The public in Lyari is outraged and furious at what they term an extra judicial killing of Rehman Dakait along with three others, namely Nazeer Balah, Wajah Aqueel Ahmed and Baba Aurungzeb, within police custody.
SP Chaudhry Aslam, the man who led the 'encounter', argues it was not a fake encounter. But the eldest widow of Rehman, Farzana questions: "How is it that the four men, whom they called gangsters, died within three metres of firing, almost point blank range, while the police team was left without a scratch?" Her son Kabeer will be the successor to Rehman's businesses, and political life, it is said.
"I went to meet that man (SP Aslam) today at his house in Defence," says Shaheen Baloch, a cousin of one of the deceased, Baba Aurungzeb, who was the President of the Sindh and Balochistan Transport Owners Association. "When I said to him upfront that you took Rs8 crore after which you killed the four men, he answered back smugly that he had taken even more, and there was nothing I could do about it. Then he just very rudely made remarks against my ethnicity."
When contacted by TNS, SP Chaudry Aslam, answered questions very hurriedly, simply concluding that, "an encounter held at a distance of three metres was a very valid encounter", and that the "case had been closed". "Post mortems have technicalities that journalists won't understand," he said. "And I don't care about the rest of what they say about me."
Meanwhile, Dr Abdul Jabbar Memon, the Medico-Legal officer (MLO) present on duty at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) when the four bodies were brought in, confirmed to TNS that after the post mortem it appears that the bullets were in all probability fired from a distance of three metres, but says the post-mortem report has been "sealed by the government." He denied other marks on the bodies.
The sisters of Baba Aurungzeb's claim goes against Dr Memon's and police's statement. "Despite the fact that my brother did not have a criminal record, we discovered later that he was tortured to death," says Saira, Aurungzeb's sister. The photograph of Baba Aurungzeb's corpse shows clear pressure marks around his neck, which may have been because of a cord. Other than that there is only one bullet mark on his shoulder and, the family says, there was only another bullet that had hit his leg. "We want to know what he died of."
Abdur Rehman Rind, a member of the Lyari Peace Committee that Rehman Baloch had set up during his last six months, also voiced the same opinion. "Rehman may have been condemned as a corrupt man, but then how many of our so-called leaders, ones who are elected, not corrupt? Rehman built roads, schools, parks and madrassas for children out of his own money. He even built a small clinic and was planning on a lot more. And once he called for peace in Lyari, no one dared to even fire a shot at a wedding, otherwise Khan bhai would deal with them."
For a man known as Rehman Dakait in the media, the words 'Khan Bhai', which was a title given to him, are seen spray painted all over the walls of Lyari. One of his schools is still under construction, while some burqa-clad women are seen reading books at a library that he named after his father Sardar Dad Baloch ('Dadal'). A tuition centre lies adjacent to the library, free, and a youth centre is being built too.
A lane behind one of Rehman's houses in Rexar Lane is a park popularly called Mujahid Park, where Babu Dakait, a gangster in the 1980s used to torture his victims who would not pay up for his extortion. Throughout the years this park has remained locked, its mystery intriguing many. Today it has been opened up for the children of Lyari, and a foundation stone reveals that MNA Nabeel Gabol and MPA Rafeeq Engineer of the PPP were present on the inauguration of this park with Sardar Abdur Rehman Baloch. What more evidence is there to suggest that these PPP candidates for their Lyari vote bank knew and had allied with Rehman? If he was a wanted man now, he was a wanted man when this park was inaugurated too. Then why was Rehman Dakait killed?
Shah Baloch another close friend of Rehman names three possible beneficiaries of the death of Rehman Baloch. "One is the MQM, who wanted to take over the area, and who are on the other hand patronising the group under Arshad Pappu, so that he may take over now, and under gun point get the MQM to win. The other is the military element which saw Rehman as a potential threat who may join forces with any Baloch nationalist party and cause problems. But the most immediate and the strongest motive may have been for the PPP, who saw Rehman as taking over the entire Lyari sector politically and thought he had become very popular which meant a threat to them."
Shah says that the clashes called 'gang-wars' by the media were in fact only a Baloch tribal fight, a very common element in the Baloch culture.
"The question is," cuts in a man living in the same locality as Rehman, "why did the police not do anything in Lyari when there was so much violence? They used to be scared to come here. All the politicians were scared of entering Lyari, but right at the time when Rehman changed the situation and made peace committees, they killed him."
While news reports stated that SP Investigations, East Zone, Chaudhry Aslam, had received a tip-off that Rehman Dakait was present at the Link Road in Steel Town, Shah counters this saying there was foul play. "We think that the police lured Rehman to a certain spot, which I do not think was the Steel Town Link Road. Rehman was not with his usual armed guards and did not have much to protect himself," he says. "The police probably made a deal with him, like they had made a deal in the Quetta arrest earlier, and Rehman came to them, thinking he would be allowed to go. He really did not suspect he would be killed. After all three metres is almost point blank."
He then repeats what other people have said about the death of Rehman Dakait. "If Rehman was a wanted man, a suspected criminal, there should have been a trial against him, so that everyone knew. Every man, innocent or guilty deserves a court trial not death." The public in Lyari has also sworn to boycott the elections this time. "We will see who dares to even come here and try to get our vote, whether it is the PPP or the MQM. They have never done anything for us, and they have snatched away the only hope we had," says a woman.
But though the public curses the MQM for trying to do away with Rehman, Nadia Gabol, the MPA for MQM from Lyari, condemns the killing herself. "I live two minutes away from Rehman Baloch, and I have never had any problem with him, even though he supported the PPP. And let me make this clear, if Nabeel Gabol and Rafiq Engineer had not been supported by Rehman Baloch, they would never have won the seats."
Nadia Gabol, the niece of Nabeel Gabol, says that no matter what anyone says, Lyari was definitely 'picking up'. "There was no firing at weddings, there was an abrupt drop in boys doing drugs in the lanes, there was 600 gallons of water being supplied to Lyari in one day. The roads were in a better condition, the man (Rehman Baloch) gave away ration during Ramzan. As far as his death is concerned, it was a shock to the people. I am sure he had it coming, but the way it came his way was unfair. Every one, innocent or guilty, deserves a fair trial. And MQM did not have anything to do with his death."
Nabeel Gabol, MNA People's Party, said "Rehman was a notorious character and governor Sindh had also announced Rs1 million head money for him. To the questions of accusations that PPP was responsible for his killing and used him he said this was "baseless propaganda against him and his party."
Today, though Lyari's reaction to Rehman's death has been unnaturally controlled and quiet, in spite of some aerial firing at his funeral, and the protest the families held at the Karachi Press Club, the general public in Lyari remembers him as a Robin Hood figure rather than a petty criminal.
"He was the only one who did anything for us," cries an old man. "Each Ramzan he gave out food for us poor people. Now will the political parties promise to do what they have never done before?" he questions.
Musharraf's trial is simultaneously a trial of the government, the military, and the parliament
By Adnan Rehmat
The fashion in Pakistan today is one of righteous rage. Everyone's clamouring for the head of Musharraf, the disgraced former military dictator, once invincible but now facing calls for him to be sent to the gallows.
The increasingly loud and consistent calls for trial of General Pervez Musharraf for treason aren't exactly misplaced. Not only has the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared patently illegal his November 3, 2007 state of emergency (a naked martial law by another name). Musharraf himself unabashedly admits it was unconstitutional. And this was his second; his first being in October 1999.
However, in keeping with the perplexing political traditions of Pakistan, the irony is thick in the air.
What explains the muted grudge and the impressive restraint of PPP and the simmering rage of the likes of PML-N and the religious right? It's realpolitik, of course. Realpolitik (a German compound that combines the words 'real' [practical] and 'politik' [actual]) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions. In this respect, it shares aspects of philosophical approach with those of pragmatism. The term realpolitik sits relevant in the Pakistani context as it is often used pejoratively to imply politics that are coercive, amoral or Machiavellian. It is a theory of politics that focuses on considerations of power, not ideals or principles.
So what's the realpolitik for the principle actors here, the PPP led by Zardari (the unloved successor of the likes of larger-than-life-even-after-their-deaths Bhutto and Benazir) and the PML-N headed by Sharif? For the former it's the place in the government and for the latter the position of a powerful, influential opposition. For PPP, setting aside focus from tackling such debilitating crises as energy shortages, price hike, judicial activism and terrorism and instead directing its exhausted energies on picking up a no-win-guarantee fight with the military is tantamount to political suicide. It has everything to lose if it takes on an uncertain fight. The PML-N, meanwhile, has the luxury of little to lose and a lot to gain if it succeeds in getting its biggest political rival bogged down, if not driven into the ground.
Weak, not stupid
The PPP may be weak and its government weaker still but it is not stupid. It will not do the dirty work for PML-N and pave the way for the Sharif dynasty to trump the Bhutto dynasty. It is illustrative how, provocations and temptations notwithstanding, the PPP has stuck to the compulsions of its circumstances. Despite the debilitating loss of Benazir, indeed the ultimate sacrifice for a party to regain power after over a decade in the political wilderness, it has grittily navigated a minefield of obstacles that few would have survived, even Sharif, had his party been in power at the Centre.
The PPP has no love lost for Musharraf. Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said as much. But short of the military itself agreeing to give up Musharraf, the PPP will never haul in the former dictator before the courts. Why Musharraf is unlikely to be brought to trial by the PPP government, no matter how much the pressure from its rivals and allies, is that it deems itself already having avenged Benazir's shock assassination by easing him out. The PPP was allowed into power in the first place under the deal that Musharraf will be allowed to complete his 5-year term that the party indirectly endorsed in the fall of 2007 in the controversial presidential elections. In return, PPP would get an open playing field in the elections and its nominee could be elected prime minister in a coalition with PML-Q. Additionally, Benazir would not only not return to the country before elections, for the initial six months after elections, she would not run for election.
Things changed when Benazir pressed her luck and suspicious of the general reluctance of Musharraf to keep his end of the bargain and general foul play, forced an early return from exile. What really happened between her October 2007 return and her assassination two months later, we don't really know. However, election results were respected and gave everyone something -- continued presidential primacy to Musharraf, the Punjab to PML-N and the federal government to PPP. However, PPP pulled off as neat a political stunt as you can in Pakistan's treacherous political landscape by edging out Musharraf on the pain of impeachment and with a big helping hand from PML-N. However, this too was sealed with a deal: Musharraf would not be prosecuted. The guarantors were Saudi Arabia and UK.
So here's the bottom line: Musharraf and Benazir did a deal they respected in the breach with bitter results for both parties. The moral (pun intended again) of the story was not lost on PPP and the next deal was not, has not and will not be breached. The PPP and Zardari will keep power, at least for the medium term, and Musharraf will retain his non-legal immunity. Sharif and PML-N on the other hand have nothing to lose.
Ironically again, Sharif, who is outraged at the backroom Faustian bargain between Zardari's PPP and Musharraf and his interlocutors, himself agreed to a deal to stay away from the country and its politics for 10 years in return for not being sent to the gallows. His interlocutors and guarantors were the same: Saudi Arabia and UK.
Idealism vs pragmatism
It's easier to practice idealism if it's from the field where you have to lose little; pragmatism takes over if you are in the government. For those in government, it is difficult to do the popular thing as they're faced with reality check -- compulsions of survival. Zardari has to do a tough act: play a balance between people's expectations and his government's compulsions. For Sharif it is easy: articulate popular demands and leave the dirty work for the government which, if it manages to do it, can only do it at the pain of fouling its relationship with the most powerful arbiter of power in Pakistan: the military establishment.
For the government, the reality is that three powerful forces are breathing down its neck: the military establishment, the opposition and the judiciary. The opposition adds the pressure further through public mobilisation. Pakistan's weak position and heavy dependency on international players to keep afloat economically and politically means there are foreign stakeholders that have to be taken into account by the government, whether it is Zardari's government or Sharif's. It just so happens that Sharif is not in the pressure seat.
The real deal
However, despite the formidable problems faced by the PPP, many of its own making, it is inexcusable that they cannot take action when for the first time in the country's history it has become so easy to at least hand out token punishment. At least another deal can be made. Who says Musharraf has to be hanged? Zardari, Benazir and many others benefited from the declared NRO. Musharraf clearly is benefiting from an undeclared NRO. With the Supreme Court declaring discriminatory amnesty illegal, the immunity to Musharraf should also be done away with. He should either be punished or a truth and reconciliation commission, much proposed but not realised, be set up that should help everyone come clean and provide a future roadmap for cleaner politics.
There are those who say if Musharraf, and by that extension the army, is put on trial, those who helped him on the civilian side, would or should also be held on trial. However, political governments and political leaders have always been held on trial, particularly in the 1990s, by way of their dismissal. And it has been a trial without recourse to justice. The problem with the trial of Musharraf is that it is simultaneously also a trial of the government, the military, and the parliament. Everyone is failing.
Jaswant Singh's book has vindicated the political position of Jinnah as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and not the communalist
By Tahir Kamran
Jaswant Singh's book Jinnah: India-Partition Independence has, yet again, triggered the debate over the partition of the subcontinent. Onus for lacerating India has been placed on Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel instead of Jinnah, the favourite 'culprit' of Indian nationalist historians.
Singh's assessment of these personalities is not conceptually novel. It was a mere reiteration of the conclusion already drawn by many including Abul Kalam Azad in his India Wins Freedom. Ayesha Jalal conceptualised the same inference in her seminal and the most influential work on Jinnah The Sole Spokesman thus challenging the primordiality of an ideological state. Ajit Jawed's Secular and Nationalist Jinnah is another scholarly venture meant to revisit the stereotypical image of M A Jinnah by an Indian political scientist.
The image of Jinnah being a communalist and an exponent of Muslim separatism has been laid to rest in Ajit Jawed's book. Despite Jawed's positive portrayal of the protagonist, the book did not ruffle anybody. Hence what seems more crucial in the present instance is the very person, Jaswant Singh, imputed for writing an adulatory account of Jinnah -- absolving him of the charge levelled against him by Indian intelligentsia -- of causing partition.
Coming from a BJP stalwart seems to have baffled many, though Singh is hardly the first person from right wing Hindu party to eulogise Jinnah. Lal Kishen Advani, on his visit to Pakistan in 2005, also paid a glowing tribute to the founder of Pakistan. During his speech on June 5 at a function organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law, Advani said: "I believe Jinnah's speech to Pakistan's Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 is the ideal that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh -- the three present-day sovereign and separate constituents of the undivided India of the past, sharing a common civilisational heritage -- should follow".
The price Advani paid for his laudation of Jinnah was not as exorbitant as Jaswant Singh's. The latter, by committing himself on paper, has made it a part of recorded history now since the impact of the written word lasts infinitely longer than the words spoken. Advani's speech at Karachi also generated uproar, costing him only the presidency of the party but no one talked about his expulsion from BJP. He just spoke and spoke what he had read about Jinnah from Jinnah's Early Politics: Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity by Ian Bryant Wells before taking his sojourn to Pakistan. Advani's case was different also because he never held Sardar Patel responsible for the partition. One must not lose sight of the fact that what Nehru is to Congress, Sardar Patel is to BJP.
Singh's sin was graver, rather inveterate, as he opted to publish a book of quite a sizable volume on the "demonised" figure of Jinnah with an expressed aim to set "Pakistan on fire" but could manage only to provoke his own countrymen. Holding Patel responsible for the partition served as a catalyst and Singh was unceremoniously expelled from the party of whom he was a founding member. Instead of coming to his rescue, Advani only granted an approving nod.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat, the uncompromising Narendra Modi was among those who ordered to ban the book. The copies that were found in the vicinity were burnt to ashes. He probably was not cognizant of the fact that such methods of denunciation more often than not add to the popularity of the book. Hence Singh should be beholden to the Chief Minister of Gujarat for such a vicarious act in benevolence.
While bringing Jinnah's stance on cabinet mission (1946) into sharper focus, any scholar of History with meticulous eye would not consider his standpoint anomalous at all. Jinnah had always advocated autonomy for the provinces with a weak centre. In a plural country like India, provincial autonomy could be the only recipe for communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in the given circumstances. Cabinet Mission by virtue of three-tiered formula of putting together various provinces in groups a, b and c ensured what Jinnah had been striving for, since 1920s. It contained maximum degree of provincial autonomy and residuary powers vested in provinces, a weak centre with fewer subjects, escape clause which anticipated a possibility of any province to cede from the Indian federation. It also envisaged safeguards for the minorities. All said and done, Cabinet Mission offered a viable alternate to the partition.
Jinnah asked for partition only, as Ayesha Jalal argues, as a bargaining chip. Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel however were ready to accept India without Jinnah and his Pakistan. Hamza Alvi contends that Nehru was in favour of a highly centralised state structure which could facilitate him to implement the socialist agenda, hence Cabinet Mission was not acceptable to Nehru. Congress leadership nursed strong doubts over the economic viability of the nascent Pakistan and expected it to fall back into the lap of India. Thus Nehru and Patel allowed partition of India to take effect. Keeping in view that instrumentalist approach, one cannot pick many holes in Jaswant Singh's reading of partition unless the event is studied from the primordial perspective of two-nation theory. What matters the most is the human agency; Jaswant Singh the BJP zealot who said what he was not supposed to, hence the whole raucous.
Was Jinnah a man with a secular disposition? That question lures many scholars from far and wide. Jinnah mostly exhibited his secular self through his western attire; taste for food and over all mode of living. He had Ramu as a cook and many non-Muslim friends. He was visibly irritated by Raja Sahib Mehmudabad over his obdurate insistence to promulgate Islamic injunctions in Pakistan and as Sharif ul Mujahid puts it, Jinnah started keeping him at bay. Besides, Jinnah's famous speech in the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947, asking Jagan Nath Azad to write a national anthem for Pakistan, signifies his secular bent of mind. Jinnah's choice of a Hindu poet to compose the national anthem is an ample testimony of his secular vision for Pakistan. Jagan Nath Azad is spot on when he says, "Jinnah Sahib wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a country where intolerance had no place."
Thus Jaswant Singh's book has vindicated the political position of Jinnah whereby he remained the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity and not the communalist. One hopes some one writes on Gandhi the way Singh has written on Jinnah.
The writer is chairman department of History, Government College University Lahore.
Scenes from Kabul -- elections that could change the fate of the Afghan people
By Waqar Gillani
Inayatullah Alikhaili, 46, came to Habibia High School polling station in Kabul to cast his vote in the second presidential elections in Afghanistan. This he did by risking his life in the wake of increasing violence and threats by the Taliban. "I want to elect the leader of my own choice because I want to see peace and progress in my country." He ruled out the Taliban threat asserting the country needs to cope with the Taliban in a democratic way. "They should have contested election if they wanted power."
This was precisely the spirit of the people of Afghanistan during these elections on August 20. Turnout was very low in the morning -- except a few polling stations -- but gradually gained momentum and ultimately polling hours were extended to facilitate the voters.
These elections hold a great importance in Afghanistan's history. These were the second independent elections for the country that has suffered three decades of bloody war ostracising it from the international community. Long distances, weak institutions and poor security hurdled the election process this time too.
The first elections of 2004 which had made Hamid Karzai the president were largely US-controlled. This time, however, the role of internal threats from the Taliban was more visible, and dangerous, as compared to external players.
The Taliban -- with a strong grip over Helmend, Ghazni, Kandhar and few other provinces -- heavily influenced voting, their main modus operandi being harassment of the voters besides bombing and rocket launchers. The roads presented a curfew-like picture when the voters chose to remain in their houses instead of voting, before the election day. That hinted low turnout and the environment of fear. By the afternoon of August 20, however, voters gradually started filling up the haunted polling stations. "We are against these polls and we will continue to attack Kabul and other cities," read the message sent to local journalists by the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah.
Half of 33 million population of Afghanistan are registered voters including 4.5 million votes listed in 2009. The country is ethnically divided among Pashtuns (who are in majority with 52 percent) and Tajiks (21 percent), Hazara (nine percent), Baloch (seven percent), Uzbek (six percent), Turkmen (two percent), Qizilbash (one percent), and others (one percent).
President Hamid Karzai was already the favourite candidate among his 31 competitors. Unless he secures more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round he faces a run-off against the second placed candidate. The final result is scheduled to be declared by the Independent Election Commission on September 17. All the major contenders have served in Karzai's cabinet and resigned after having differences with the incumbent president.
Ramzan Bashardost, for me, epitomised Afghan spirit. A presidential candidate, he is professor of law with a doctorate in law from France. His campaign office was a tent pitched on an unpaved footpath in front of parliament house in Kabul. Clad in blue shalwar kameez and black waistcoat Bashardost, who is on number three according to preliminary results, has been a minister in the cabinet of Karzai but resigned only after nine months. Having no resources, he decided to run his campaign in the tent and stay in another small room adjacent to the tent installed on the main road.
His campaign office in the tent was full of young Afghans who had come for his support. When someone asked him about his source of funding and at that very moment Ali Dad -- a young man who runs a mobile phone shop in Kabul -- entered with US $ 100 as a donation. "This is my source of funding. They all love me and I love them."
Philippe Morillon, the head of European Union Election Observation Mission, welcomed the election as fair but "not universally free." While talking to TNS, he praised the courage of the Afghans who came out to vote, defying threats. "Despite operational shortcomings and some institutional flaws, the Independent Election Commission generally functioned efficiently, adhering to its tight timeline in implementing electoral operations." The observers have also mentioned that majority of the women voters did not cast their vote, mainly because of the threatened environment.
According to the locals, their country needs stability and that is the reason why they voted for Karzai, someone they believe should be given another chance to put Afghanistan on track. Karzai's victory is also being viewed as an important event at a time when the war against terror has entered a crucial phase. The continuity of policy will hopefully play a role in Afghan development.
This is a good beginning for a country in turmoil showing the determination of Afghanis gradually moving from war lordship to democracy.
Creative Associates Inc. and Blackwater
By Omar R Quraishi
Over the past few weeks one has come across several letters and reports -- both from professional journalists as well as from concerned citizens -- about the presence of mysterious foreign-looking security men in Peshawar. In fact, initially it was Peshawar but a recent letter said that these men were also seen in one of Islamabad's central markets. In fact, a regular writer for this newspaper's editorial pages, Shireen Mazari, in her piece of Aug 26 said that a company by the name of Creative Associates International Inc. (henceforth CAII) was operating inside Pakistan and that the foreign men seen by citizens were quite possibly working for it.
Also, in the third week of August, a German news magazine as well as a major American newspaper reported that the CIA had been using Xe Services LLC (formerly Blackwater) to provide security for the "secret" bases that it was maintaining "inside Pakistan and Afghanistan" to launch drone attacks against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Xe LLC is the same company that, it now turns out, was hired by the CIA to "collect information" on al-Qaeda leaders as well as in its secret rendition programme. Some commentators in the alternative press in the US have more or less accused the company of being the CIA's death squad claiming that the role its personnel played is well beyond gathering information on al-Qaeda leaders and assets.
In a detailed report, the New York Times said that the owner of the company, the very controversial Erik Prince, was part of the original 20-man contingent that flew out to Afghanistan to work with the CIA at its station in Kabul. It also said that Blackwater was working with the CIA in Shkin -- which happens to be situated in Paktika province. Interestingly enough, Shkin is just across the Pakistan border from Angoor Adda in South Waziristan, the very place where US Special Forces carried out a deadly raid on Sept 3, 2008 and in which several women and children were killed. Three helicopters were used in the raid and F-16 jets provided air cover, according to reports in this newspaper and the NYT.
The paper claimed that despite the controversy surrounding Blackwater the US government would be paying the company around $150 million for contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As if this were not enough, the nature of the payments was such that they were being made not to the company but to individuals -- the US government had apparently entered into contracts with individuals who were then paid for their 'services'. The reason that this was done was -- in line with the tactic of 'plausible deniability' often used by governments and their intelligence agencies -- that in case something went wrong the US government could easily distance itself and deny that it had any such programme in place with what is essentially a private mercenary company.
A former agent who worked in undercover operations for the CIA was quoted in The Nation (a leading alternative US publication with a robust presence on the web) as saying: "What the agency [CIA] was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me. When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don't understand what's going on. What makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, 'It wasn't us, we weren't the ones making the decisions.' That's the best of both worlds. It's analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, 'We're not torturing people.'"
The publication also spoke to a ranking member of Congress on the House Intelligence Committee who said that Blackwater was "part of the innermost circle strategising and exercising strategy within the Bush administration" and that "Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government". The legislator further added: "Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice-President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress."
So if Blackwater (or Xe LLC or whatever it's called now) is in Pakistan (something that Anne Patterson or her bosses in Washington will never confirm in any case) then it should be reasonable cause for some concern for Pakistanis -- simply because of the horrific record of its personnel in Iraq and because of its shady/secretive/clandestine relationship with the CIA and the US Department of Defence.
As for CAII, it has been given several major contracts by USAID and it is likely that the same may have happened with USAID now working actively in Pakistan. According to details from the website of the Center for Public Integrity, a private US-based watchdog, around 90 percent of the company's contracts come from USAID and that it has annual revenues of over $50 million. It seems to prefer working in conflict or potential-conflict areas since the roster includes the likes of (in addition to Afghanistan) Serbia, Mozambique, Angola, El Salvador, Haiti, Benin, Guatemala, Lebanon and Liberia. According to the company's website, clients include the US Marine Corps, the Jordanian government and the World Bank.
Examples of its 'projects' suggest that it works closely with the US government and its various agencies, particularly the departments of state and defence. For example, in the late 1980s, it received USAID and Pentagon funding to "help demobilize and provide civilian training" for the Contras in Nicaragua. The Washington Times (a paper known for its rightwing views) recently reported that Creative Associates had contracts with two "well-known" oil companies, and that when the Center for Public Integrity asked the company to name them, Creative refused to answer and obliquely said: "Our work for USAID helps advance United States global interests in peace and security, and is carried out in accordance with the governing rules and regulations of the United States government."
The centre also said that as long ago as Oct 2003, the company refused to answer nine of its questions that it had asked Creative regarding certain contracts. It pointed out that only six months prior to this round of refusals, the head of the company, Maria Kruvant, had told The Washington Post that "the issue of transparency is part of our life" and "I usually say quite comfortably that people know my shoe size". The centre gives several examples from Iraq, in particular a project called "RISE, or Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education" dating back to 2003 where it implies that the company was favoured in a big way by USAID and that the contract in question was worth as much as $157.1 million over its three-year implementation period. Also in 2003, USAID awarded CAII a three-year contract worth over 60 million dollars for "educational reform" in Afghanistan for "rebuilding 1,000 schools, training 30,000 teachers and providing $15 million worth of textbooks". In 2004 CAII was given another contract in Iraq, worth over 55 million dollars, to provide "technical assistance" to the Iraqi ministry of education.
The writer is Editorial Pages
Editor of The News.