This past Saturday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters he would resign if the private security company Blackwater (Xe) was found operating in Pakistan. Following the release of Jeremy Scahill‘s piece in The Nation, “Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan,” he may have already snatched his toupee off the hat stand and headed for the hills.
Scahill, a well-known critic of private security contractors and author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, found in an investigation, “At a covert forward operating base run by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater (known as Blackwater Select) are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, ‘snatch and grabs’ of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan.”
Scahill cited a well-placed source within the U.S. military intelligence apparatus, who further revealed, “The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes.” And that’s not all, noted Scahill. Some of the personnel in the program, a division so “compartmentalized” that even “senior figures within the Obama administration and the U.S. military chain of command may not be aware of its existence,” also work undercover as aid workers.
When I first saw the headline blazoned across my Twitter feed, I immediately thought the source was Pakistan’s The Nation, rather than the American media outlet The Nation. Ironic, isn’t it? Allegations of Blackwater involvement in Pakistan have been circulating for months, propagated mainly by figures from Pakistan’s “right,” such as Shireen Mazari, Zaid Hamid, and Ahmed Quraishi. While Scahill’s assessment is more grounded in direct statements (rather than circumstantial evidence), it is interesting that a Western journalist’s assertions are immediately seen as more legitimate and credible than reports in Pakistan, many of which were branded as “rumors” and garnered heavy skepticism.
I do not have enough information to verify Scahill’s assertions, but it seems significant that his entire piece is founded on three anonymous sources – one with “direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement” who worked on covert U.S. military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the second a former senior executive at Blackwater, and the third a U.S. military source with “knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The White House, not surprisingly, did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for Scahill’s story, and Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo told The Nation, “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” adding the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”
While I personally don’t know what to believe, nor do I think it really matters, I am curious to see Rehman Malik’s reaction to such a report. Will he resign as promised? In the words of the all-mighty Magic 8 Ball, “Don’t count on it.”