Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe Services, has been in the news for many months now. It is a private military security firm, also serving as one of the private security contractors used by the US State Department. Recently its founder and former CEO, Erik Prince, made some shocking revelations to Vanity Fair about the company’s activities. Though the CIA has recently cancelled its contract with his firm, Prince revealed in his interview that “he has been doing the CIA’s bidding, helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into ‘denied areas’ — places US intelligence has trouble penetrating — to assembling hit teams targeting al Qaeda members and their allies.” Apparently, the ‘target list’ is not just limited to al Qaeda members and its allies. The CIA had asked Blackwater to eliminate Pakistani scientist Dr AQ Khan. However, authorities in Washington later “chose not to pull the trigger”.
The whole Blackwater affair is proving to be quite intriguing, especially for Pakistan. Every other day, vehicles bearing foreigners (read Americans) are being stopped at checkposts, yet they refuse to let the security forces search the cars. Despite the fact that these foreigners have diplomatic immunity, their uncooperative attitude with the law enforcement agencies has led to a lot of speculation. Even if we concede that there is nothing worth searching for in these vehicles, considering the amount of suspicion against the US it would be advisable that the Americans do not make such a hue and cry when stopped at security checkposts. Instead, they should let themselves be searched to silence their critics. By pressuring the government to let the Americans go scot-free after violations of security arrangements, the US itself is eroding its stance on Pakistan being a sovereign country. This weakens the alliance in the war against terrorism. The very presence of Americans anywhere can act as an open invitation to terrorist attacks. This poses a serious threat to Pakistan’s security.
On another note, the previous regime’s ‘verbal’ agreements with the Americans to operate on Pakistani soil are also clouded with suspicion and speculation. It is the incumbent government’s responsibility to revisit these agreements and find out exactly what the terms and conditions are instead of turning a blind eye to the Americans’ activity on our soil. Even if it is necessary that the Americans continue with their operations, it is time that the government is taken on board. Pakistan cannot allow clandestine activities on its soil any longer; we have already paid a high price for the Afghan ‘jihad’. We understand that this is our war, but this does not mean that we can allow any other country, even an ally, erode our sovereignty, violate our laws or put us in further danger.
The rumour machine’
Monday, December 14, 2009
Syed Ali Hamid
At a wedding a year ago, a few of us were talking about what every discussion nowadays degenerates into: the security situation. Adding my two bits, I narrated an incident I believed to be authentic that had recently happened to a friend of a friend. You all probably heard the story about the would-be suicide bomber getting a lift from some poor, unsuspecting driver and being instructed to ram into any government vehicle encountered en route. “I have heard this story from five different people in the last two days and you are the sixth,” remarked a gentleman from my audience of listeners. “Each of them said it had happened to a friend of a friend. It’s total rubbish. Don’t believe rumours.” I felt small but he was absolutely right. I had succumbed to the temptations of the rumour machine and for a few minutes was sitting in the seat of the rumour mechanic driving the machine on.
The rumour machine grinds down the truth, fuelled by baseless conspiracy theories connecting unrelated and unverified information. In these times of uncertainty, few vehicles travel faster than the rumour machine. It moves at the speed of light over the internet and through SMSs. Akin to a computer virus, it worms its way into newspapers and TV talk shows and is followed by fear and despondency.
Like a cosmic cloud, the conspiracy theory is borne from specs of rumours and insinuations. As the rumours and insinuations circulate collecting interstellar dust along the way, they coagulate creating a gravity that feeds on the debris of past theories to support the credibility. If the rumours gain sufficient strength where people start believing them to be authentic, a critical level of temperature, pressure and mass is reached, which sets in a chain reaction and a new sun of a full-blown conspiracy is borne. Sadly, it’s not a sun whose golden rays will provide life to new planets. It’s a dark star that is created to destroy, shooting out solar flares and bolts of radiation that burn through the fabric of a nation, pulverising trust and hope.
What provides rumours that degree of authenticity is when they are picked up by the media. Now people will quote them with reference; the foreign media will pick them up, add more fuel and sling it back like a comet entering the cosmic cloud through the national press. Even the militants have tried to use the rumour machine to their advantage. One of their leading commanders is reported to have said that Blackwater was responsible for the recent spate of bomb blasts in Peshawar.
Each plausible explanation is countered and negated by another rumour. I was with an executive at a bank and he narrated a rumour linking it to a conspiracy theory doing the circuit. I told him he was misinformed and explained the facts. So he shifted to another rumour linked to the conspiracy theory and I challenged him on that too. He brought forward yet another rumour.. Rumours are not supported by facts but are based on hearsay and gossip, the building block of other rumours. Each of us who passes on a rumour is for those few moments driving the rumour machine till someone else jumps onto the driving seat. But the actual driver is the rumour manipulator who is the architect of its birth and plays from behind the scene stoking the embers if the fire fades.
Much as I would like to say, I have no formulae or recipe to disable the rumour machine. I have no set of five recommendations for the government to counter this menace. I commend the people who fight back. I may not challenge every rumour I hear because I don’t know the facts but I have certainly stopped repeating them. We are the silent majority. Let us use our silence as a weapon by not being an accomplice to the rumour monger.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: email@example.com