Friday, February 12, 2010

Grave concerns over presence of Blackwater in Pakistan

Asif Haroon Raja

A private and secretive outfit named Blackwater under Erik Prince propped up in North Carolina in mid 1990s with its HQ spread over 7000 acres of land. It trains tens of thousands of law enforcement officials a year from the US and other nations. It has grown into a private army and has become so powerful that it can topple a government. It has over 2300 soldiers deployed in nine countries. It maintains a data base of 21000 Special Forces troops and retired police for its use.

Jeremy Scahill revealed in his book “Rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army”, that Pentagon has made private contractors an integral part of operations. Infamous private security firm Blackwater had been put to use in Iraq as hired killers. Largest ever private contractors totalling 100,000 were employed having a ratio of 1:1 to American soldiers. Paul Bremer initially used security guards of this private firm for his personal protection and subsequently expanded its role to avoid US casualties. Rs one lac was paid to a security guard per day. It changed its name to Xe Worldwide or Xe Services after earning bad name in Iraq where it was extensively employed by US military.

This role is now being performed in Afghanistan particularly after US war casualties started to rise in 2009. Most of clandestine work in Afghanistan is being done by Blackwater. Reportedly, Blackwater/Xe in Afghanistan is training and equipping Afghan troops who then fire on US soldiers during joint operations. Two such incidents took place in 2009 and this practice is aimed at justifying troop surge.

Gordon Duff, a senior editor of Veterans Today has disclosed that the CIA has outsourced its most secret projects to Blackwater, a mercenary group with worst reputation of any firm the US has ever done business with. It plans and executes terrorist acts against civilian targets, military installations, intelligence agencies and resorts to target killings. It maintains contacts with terrorist leaders and organizes revolutionary groups. Disregarding US laws, CIA has expanded the role of private contractors including Blackwater like raids, operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia and now in Yemen. This was disclosed by four former US military and intelligence officers to ABL News.

There is mounting evidence that Pentagon and CIA are engaged in a war against Pakistan population involving death squads, disappearances and torture. These infamous practices were employed in Vietnam and Al Salvador. One of the chief executives of Blackwater Robert Richer was head of CIA’s Near East and South Asia from1999 to 2004 and ran clandestine operations throughout Middle East and South Asia. Gen Petraeus in August 2009 announced plans to launch an intelligence training centre in coordination with others to train military officers, covert agents and analysts who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. In the same month, it was announced that Pentagon was reassigning its 3rd Special Forces Group presently deployed in Africa and Caribbean to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The CIA also uses credentialed journalists to engage in counter-intelligence. Individuals working as subcontractors to CIA have links to Blackwater CIA-approved operations in targeted countries of the region. Blackwater comes in the guise of contractors, investors, business partners and economic advisers. According to Tim Shorrock, Washington obtained $42 billion annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $17.5 in 2000. It implies 70% intelligence budget going to private companies. Private contractors have been involved in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Abu Garib prisons. Blackwater not only serves CIA but also private interests for money. Blackwater elements used extensively by CIA and US military to minimize hazards of combat to US troops have come under intense censure and scrutiny in Iraq and Pakistan due to which their liberty of action has curtailed.

Controversial Blackwater firm which is an extension of US military and CIA is associated with Christian rights and is anti-Islam. Its head Eric Prince is right wing Christian. He has been engaged in uniting conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and neoconservatives in a common Theo-conservative holy war to eliminate Muslims and Islam globally. Blackwater acts as the armed wing of the movement. Blackwater is reportedly running a covert recruitment drive through its website in Pakistan; It can only be accessed through four company executives’ references. It seeks candidates who can speak Punjabi and Urdu. $ one billion has been allocated for Blackwater which is above law and accountability. Not even home country law is applicable to this outfit. Not a single private contractor involved in gruesome murders has been prosecuted.

Presence of elements of notorious Black water in Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta and now in Karachi has created ripples in Pakistan and has become a cause of serious concern for all Pakistanis. In Peshawar, they are operating from office of CA11 on Chinar Road, University Town. In-charge of this set up Craig Davis was caught red handed in Peshawar indulging in objectionable activities and having links with Afghanistan. He was identified as an operative of Creative Associates International Inc; a Washington based US firm, one of the wings of Blackwater. Craig was arrested and deported to USA. He and several other deported persons were returned to Pakistan after receiving visas from Pak Embassy in Washington and security cleared by interior ministry and Craig resumed his official activities. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani issued 360 visas to American nationals in one month without consulting Islamabad. This dangerous practice would have continued had the ISI not put its foot down. Consequent to this setback, this suspicious company changed its name and shifted to Karachi.

Several incidents of Americans carrying prohibited bore weapons and grenades roaming the streets of Islamabad during ungodly hours took place. Two incidents happened in Lahore and five Americans were caught under suspicious conditions from Sargodha. Glen Greinwad disclosed that there is ample evidence that the US pays a number of groups within Iran to commit acts of terrorism. If so, there is likelihood that CIA must be indulging in such like activities in Pakistan as well. Blackwater has been actively involved in assassinating pro-government Maliks, clerics and notables in FATA, religious scholars in NWFP, political figures, and target killings in Quetta and in Karachi and in drone attacks. It had a role in organised terrorist attacks against military and police targets in Lahore and Rawalpindi. It provides surveillance and support to terrorist groups such as BLA and BRA in Balochistan and Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan in FATA and Swat.

Reportedly, the US has purchased 16 acres land from CDA in Islamabad. Over $ 1 billion has been earmarked for the expansion of US Embassy in Islamabad, part of which would stretch up to PM Secretariat and Presidency. Offices of Marines, Blackwater security consultants along with residences will be constructed. The new Embassy would be designed to make it bomb proof and to be able to eavesdrop all our high powered secret meetings taking place in parliament, Presidency and PM Secretariat. Rumors are afloat that 1000 to 7000 US Marines together with APCs are planned to be stationed within the confines of new embassy in Islamabad with licence to move about anywhere in Pakistan. 400 houses have been hired in Islamabad by US Embassy.

The intended expanded US Embassy in Islamabad will be the largest in the world. $ 115million have been earmarked for it and made part of Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) package for Pakistan. It includes $5 million for Marines quarters, $53.5 million for housing infrastructure; $18 million for general services and office area; $36 million for temporary duty quarters and community staff facilities. All told $4 billion will be required for the ambitious project. $800 million had been allocated for the protection of enlarged and fortified Embassy through private security contractor DynCorp.

Some say it is being made into a military base while others say a cantonment is being built. Expansion of US Embassy in Islamabad is being justified under the plea that greater number of officials would be required to disburse promised $1.5 billion aid per annum from USA and Friends of Pakistan. If this is the criteria, India with which USA has strategic cooperation in defence and economic fields which is twenty times more in volume, USA should need half of New Delhi to accommodate coordinating and disbursement staff. US Ambassador has sought sanction for 800 vehicles which will be in addition to existing fleet of 1100 private cars in use by Embassy staff in Islamabad. It is said that the fortified US Embassy close to PM secretariat will counter balance Rawalpindi based 111 Brigade. Under the garb of KLB, which is a step towards neo-colonisation of Pakistan, it is intended to enhance presence of US military contractors, immune from prosecution.

The US has purchased a large chunk of land in Sihala and has seemingly established a secret military training camp adjacent to police academy just a few km away from Islamabad and from Kahuta. It is being used to recruit retired army personnel preferably ex SSG at handsome salaries to work for US military. Monthly salaries range from $200 to $1200. Commandant of the Academy or any other person belonging to law enforcing agency could not enter the prohibited area. Sensitive instruments were implanted to monitor KRL and to gain intelligence on nuclear assets. It has now come to light that this unchecked facility was given to USA in 2003 under an unwritten agreement by Gen Musharraf to train the police.

A security firm has a warehouse in Islamabad which was involved in illegal arm trade. The warehouse, Kestral Logistics, worked as a sub contractor of Xe World. It imported heavy arms and ammunition for US Company for its illicit operation in Pakistan. The US rejected news on warehouse for storing arms. US Ambassador Anne Patterson and Richard Holbrooke too denied presence of Blackwater.

In 2006, Pakistan had signed an agreement with the US authorising Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden. At that time Gen McChrystal was head of JSOC. It was learnt in 2008 that the US had acquired huge chunk of land near Tarbela with a view to build a military base. Some reports say that 300 US military advisers are lodged in Tarbela and drones are also controlled from there. US Special Forces have been conducting joint exercises with our commandoes apart from imparting advanced training.

US military trainers favour tactics adopted by JSOC and are imparting training to Frontier Corps in Fort Balhissar Peshawar and in Warsak. On 23 February 2009, Pentagon revealed that over 70 American military advisers had been secretly working in Pakistan since long. It has now transpired that 100-member strong Special Forces unit is stationed in NWFP since 2008 to train FC in counter terrorism. Three US trainers died in a suicide attack in Lower Dir on 3 February 2010. TTP claimed responsibility and claimed that the killed foreigners belonged to Xe Worldwide.

Reportedly, US opened a JSOC in Balochistan where Marines are coming in via Islamabad. Marines as well as heavy contingent of Blackwater elements to the tune of 11000 have also been spotted in Balochistan, who in collaboration with BLA and BRA are mostly carrying out target killings. Four air bases in Balochistan had been leased to US military in September 2001 and these bases at Jacobabad, Pasni, Dalbaldin and Shamsi are still in their use. It is now an open secret that Shamsi airbase is under use by US drones where Blackwater was hired for loading hellfire missiles and 500 lbs laser guided bombs on Predators. Similar job is being performed at Jalalabad air base to strike targets in Pakistan. In the wake of intense pressure from people of Pakistan, CIA terminated the contract of terrorist group Blackwater Worldwide employed at Shamsi Base but is still using it in Balochistan under the name of Xe Services.

Blackwater has now spread its tentacles to Karachi under a different name. It has hired seven private houses in defence area and acquired hundreds of acres of land near Pataro in Sindh to launch agricultural research institute. There were reports of secret construction of operational facilities in Gharo in Sindh to serve as a base for 200 Marines and that sizeable numbers of American armoured carriers had arrived at Port Qasim, with 3000 Hummvies awaiting dispatch.

Jeremy Scahill has revealed about a covert forward operation base run by JSOC in Karachi in which Blackwater is actively involved in planning and executing target assassination of suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The outfit also helps in gathering intelligence and in drone attacks. Reportedly the militant wing of MQM has joined hands with Blackwater and former is making full use of it to serve its political ends.

Seymour M. Hersh suggested that it is easier and safer to remove separately stored arming system of nuclear systems from the soil of Pakistan. US intelligence agencies in various guises like Xe worldwide are reportedly developing techniques to disable arming system. Blackwater has begun to make diagrammatical drawings and video films of nuclear installations as well as available routes to help execute US plan to hijack nukes in one go.

While every second Pakistani is expressing its grave concern over presence of Blackwater, and even Robert Gates admitted its presence, ironically the Interior Minister is adamant that there is none and wants documentary proof. It is generally believed that while Musharraf regime allowed setting up of DynCorp in Islamabad, Hussain Haqqani and Rehman Malik are instrumental in facilitating entry of Blackwater in Pakistan.

The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence and political analyst.

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