Sporting black gaggles and carrying sophisticated assault rifles, Blackwater agents move freely in Peshawar.
PESHAWAR — Already shaken by a spate of unrest in their homeland, people in Peshawar now have another source of fear on their city’s streets, the notorious US security firm Blackwater.“We are deeply scared by their presence and movement as they have posed a serious threat to our lives and properties,” Ahmed Yar Khan, a local businessman, told IslamOnline.net.
According to intelligence sources, the company, which gained world notoriety over involvement in dozens of unprovoked civilian killings in Iraq, has set up different stations in Peshawar and its vicinity.
Sporting black gaggles and carrying sophisticated assault rifles, Blackwater members move freely in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and its adjoining districts.
They are often seen in their black-colored armored vehicles carrying diplomatic number plates.
“Officially, Blackwater is providing security to the US, European and Afghan diplomats and officials working on various development projects financed by the US government in federally administered tribal areas,” a senior intelligence official told IOL, requesting anonymity for not being authorized to discuss the issue with the media.
But residents say that Blackwater agents spur fear and awe, with many of them openly standing guard on the streets and behaving rudely with the locals.
“If they are stuck in a traffic jam, they don’t allow any vehicle to come near them. And if someone mistakenly does that, they shout and point guns at them,” fumed Khan.
Some residents have even filed complaints with the authorities over mistreatment by Blackwater members, but officials turned deaf ears.
“Nothing has so far happened despite several complaints,” Khan lamented. “It seems as if these streets have been sold out to Blackwater.”
Established 10 years ago by Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, the South Carolina-based security firm has grown into what US investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill describes as the “world’s most powerful mercenary army.”
Riding machine-gun mounted utility vehicles, Blackwater’s armed contractors have gained notoriety for shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later.
A US congressional report has blamed Blackwater of involvement in 195 shooting incidents since 2005, mostly unprovoked.
Peshawar residents also fear a possible showdown between Taliban groups and Blackwater.
“We have sent a detailed report to the higher authorities that the free movement of Blackwater members is posing a serious threat to the security of Peshawar,” the senior intelligence official said.
One main task for Blackwater recently was tracking down Taliban fighters.
They are reportedly running a spy network in the tribal belt with the aim of hunting down Taliban.
“We have concrete information that mercenaries are involved in covert operations ranging from distribution of funds among anti-Taliban tribesmen to hiring of former military officers and commandoes to work for them,” said the intelligence official.
Blackwater has also hired the services of some local security agencies to work for them in some of the province’s areas where white-skinned agents cannot enter, he added.
“Taliban may carry out suicide bombings in the residential areas, where they (Blackwater members), are stationed.”
Some 18 people were killed and 46 injured on June 9 in a suicide attack at Pearl Continental Hotel Peshawar, which was believed to be a headquarters for Blackwater.
The US embassy in Islamabad denied the killing of any Blackwater members in the attack.
But government and intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the deaths of several agents.
Some residents are so fearful of troubles because of the presence of Blackwater that they decided to leave Peshawar.
“We are trying to sell our house, but no one is ready to buy even at a much cheaper price,” said Khan, the local businessman.
“We are sure that the day is very near when a suicide bomber will rock our area because of them.”