Friday, February 5, 2010

Implications of Lower Dir's Blast

Like me and my colleagues, many people in Pakistan would have spent a major part of Wednesday in tweeting and retweeting Wednesday’s bomb blast in Lower Dir which killed “three US marines”,  four school children and a Pakistani soldier. The blast had also left at least 131 wounded including two US marines, two Pakistani reporters and dozens of school children. The news stirred a lot of confusion and initially, it appeared as a puzzle with some missing pieces because the identity of the people killed particularly of the US soldiers was not acknowledges from the very beginning. Firstly, it was reported that three US journalists were killed, later on it was speculated that three USAID workers had died and then the final confirmation of the death of three US marines came from Pakistani Military spokesperson Major Athar Abbas and the US Embassy’s press statement. The ambiguity regarding the identity of the US soldiers probably arise because one Pakistani journalist overheard a Pakistani military man as saying “foreign journalists have arrived” and hence the journalist assumed that the dead US personnel were foreign journalists and spread these words.

The confusion also prevailed regarding the type of attack. Earlier it was reported that the convoy was hit by a roadside bomb but later on, it was reported that it was a remote-controlled bomb. This confusion still prevailed till Thursday morning as Dawn has still reported it as a suicide attack whereas the BBC and The Wall Street Journal are reporting it as remote-controlled blast. This is not the first time the Pakistani media has spread news as “breaking news” without going into actual verification. Nevertheless, amidst all this utter confusion of who the dead people were and what sort of an attack was it, Taliban has already claimed responsibility of Wednesday’s blast in Lower Dir. Taliban have alleged that the killed US personnel were not soldiers but members of the controversial US military contracting agency ‘Blackwater”.  However, Halbroke has rejected Taliban’s claim calling it “Taliban’s Propaganda”.

The fact of the matter is that the news of Wednesday’s blast was really attention-grabbing because the death of the US soldiers has for the first time revealed the presence of the US marines in Pakistan. According to AP report, at least 60-100 US marines are present in Pakistan with a mission to train Pakistan’s ill-equipped “Frontier Corps”. However, there are few crucial questions which require further explanation. Firstly, why the US soldiers were introduced as “journalists” and why the identity of the killed US marines was kept so secretive by both the Pakistani government and the US Embassy? One possible reason for that as is reported in the Wall Street Journal is the widespread anit-american sentiments prevalent in Pakistan.   

Secondly, the question arises what the US marines had to do with the inauguration of a school located in one of the strongholds of Taliban? The statement issued by the US Embassy sates that the US soldiers were in Pakistan to conduct trainings at the request of the Frontier Corps. Nevertheless, the US soldiers would not be training Frontier Corps on building schools but probably on counter-insurgency techniques. Surely, there was no training of the embattled Frontier Corps organized at the school inaugural. The possibility that the US soldiers were partaking in managing the US development assistance in Pakistan can not be ruled out altogether. As it has already been reported by the NY Times that the “Americans’ involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known until Wednesday’s attack”.

Thirdly, the question arises whether “the militarization of the US aid” has also started in Pakistan and it has not made public yet in Pakistan? This militarization of aid has already happened in case of Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa where the US soldiers are managing a large part of the US humanitarian assistance. Militarization of aid is partly due to the wider belief within the United States’ foreign assistance bureaucracy that the development workers can not perform well in insecure countries.  Consequently, USAID has also militarized and the Office of Military Affairs (OMA) has already been established at the USAID’s
Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance which is meant to act as a regular coordination platform between the USAID and the Department of Defence.

However, the news carries with itself obvious implications. Firstly, the humanitarian assistance work in Lower Dir which was initiated after halting of the military operation would come to a stand still. The poor households which were displaced and then repatriated as a result of the military operation would not receive any assistance at least for some time. Secondly, Taliban can also exploit the situation and can also recruit more people into their camp after their claim of the killed “US personnel” as “Blackwater representatives”. Thirdly, the anti-government forces have another weak point of the government in hand to exploit and use to heighten anti-government and anti-American sentiments among common Pakistani masses.

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