On Wednesday, a bomb blast in Lower Dir killed seven people, including three schoolgirls and three U.S. military personnel, and wounded nearly 70 people, including two Americans and 63 schoolgirls, though the NY Times reported, “The medical superintendent in Timergara, the main town in Lower Dir, said that 122 girls were injured in the attack, a far higher number than originally reported.”
According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan after the incident,
The Americans were U.S. military personnel in Pakistan conducting training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps. They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.
The bombing, which occurred just before 1100 PST, exploded “as a convoy of Pakistani security officials, journalists, and the American trainers were pulling into a girls’ school in the Haji Abad district of Lower Dir,” reported ABC News. The school destroyed in the attack, noted the news agency, was “separate from the school to which the convoy was driving.”
A girls’ school was completely destroyed Wednesday, and most of the victims were innocent children, many of who were buried under rubble in the aftermath. That was the real tragedy today. Unfortunately, focus soon shifted to the U.S. military personnel’s presence in Pakistan.
On Wednesday, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas confirmed the U.S. Embassy statement that the Americans were there to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, part of a $400 million program called “a compromise between American and Pakistani officials looking for the least intrusive way to fortify security in an area where the Pakistani government has rejected the idea of American soldiers and where even the regular Pakistani Army is often not welcome,” by the NY Times in June 2008. COAS Gen. Kayani reportedly rejected any suggestion that would allow U.S. forces to operate on the ground, but finally allowed a “plan for American military advisers to instruct Pakistani trainers, who would in turn train Frontier Corps units in counterinsurgency tactics.”
As a result, more than 20 U.S. Special Forces have been stationed in the country, reported ABC News, while the UK’s Times Online noted there were “thought to be about a dozen” American personnel. The news agency added, “Britain is also building a training camp for the Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and plans to deploy 24 army trainers there, along with six Americans, for three years from August 2010.”
These reports seem to verify the identity and context of the U.S. military personnel killed and injured today. However, many in Pakistan remain suspicious of these claims, connecting them instead to Blackwater private security contractors. This suspicion, a reflection of the current sentiment in Pakistan, has been fueled further by recent developments, including remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates allegedly confirming the company’s presence in Pakistan, [the U.S. embassy contends he was speaking about private security companies in general]. Soon after, NWFP senior minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour further affirmed that Blackwater personnel were not only operating in the country, but were also training Pakistanis.
Not one to avoid the anti-American bandwagon, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, but noted, “The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.”
Although the “military personnel were FC trainers” story seems to check out, would we ever really know otherwise? Truth be told, there have been increasing clues indicating Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan, but that does not mean that every American in Pakistan is a private security contractor. In my opinion, it is not the suspicion but the indiscriminate suspicion that I find inherently dangerous, fostering a cycle increasingly difficult to break. I’ll leave you with an interesting and insightful remark made to me by The News’ Mosharraf Zaidi:
I find it odd that objecting to a mercenary for-profit war company operating without accountability in Pakistan should be controversial at all. It’s a sad commentary on the absence of rational and linear thinking in both the so-called liberal and so-called right-wing camps. This issue has become a political football, instead of being taken seriously and resolved.