Adding fuel to an already serious diplomatic fire, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson discussed the contents of an angry letter she wrote to the Jang Group, Pakistan’s largest media conglomerate. Ambassador Patterson accused Jang of spreading “wildly incorrect” information and said the group had “compromised the security of Americans.”
Patterson’s very public clash with Jang was brought to the attention of much of Pakistan late last week, when she managed to get Jang’s “The News International” newspaper to pull the weekly column of top analyst Dr. Shireen Mazari over the article’s reference to Blackwater contractors operating in Pakistan on the behalf of the US government. The article was made available on the paper’s website, but was not published.
The pulling of the article caused a major stir in Pakistan’s blogosphere, with many seeing the US embassy’s ability to block coverage of a story as an ominous sign of America’s growing influence in the impoverished, war-ridden nation. Ambassador Patterson made it clear, however, that her problems with Jang did not begin and end with the article, and said she objected to the content of two popular talk shows on the group’s Geo TV station, which she accused to spreading “conspiracy theories.”
Last month, a poll conducted by Gallup showed that a majority of Pakistanis had identified the United States as the biggest threat to the nation, and there is a growing sense among Pakistanis that the nation’s recent military offensives are more for America’s benefit than for their own.
And while Ambassador Patterson has denied that any Blackwater employees are in Pakistan, former CIA officials had conceded only a few weeks ago that Blackwater was responsible for all the security on Pakistan’s Shamsi Air Base, from which US drones are launched.
As the US continues to expand its embassy in Islamabad and its war in Afghanistan, the conspicuous US presence is only going to fuel more unrest. Whether this will mean a growing clash with Pakistan’s private media over reporting on its activities, however, remains to be seen.