Slander – Meet the Ann Coulter of Pakistan.
by: Nicholas Schmidle
In late August, a couple of weeks after a U.S. drone strike incinerated Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s most popular televised chat show, “Capital Talk,” hosted a panel to discuss national security. Among the guests was a squat, middle-aged woman with short black hair, streaked with silver dye, named Shireen Mazari. A defense analyst and public intellectual, Mazari is known for her hawkish nationalism–and deep suspicions of India and the United States. Her presence in the studio suggested that, despite the enormous threat her country faced from homegrown terrorists, the conversation that night wouldn’t center around Mehsud or the Pakistani Taliban.
Instead, over the course of the next half hour, the panel discussed reports that Blackwater, the North Carolina–based defense contractor that recently changed its name to Xe Services, was operating in Pakistan. Hamid Mir, the host of “Capital Talk,” showed video footage of Islamabad’s most expensive neighborhoods, featuring multi-story villas with high walls and satellite dishes. The homes looked like any other on the street. But red arrows, superimposed on the screen, pointed to allegedly incriminating electrical generators and surveillance cameras perched atop the walls. “American undercover people are coming,” Mazari said. “They are renting homes, and Blackwater is providing security, running death squads and assassination squads … It is an occupation, by default.”
Mazari’s hunt for American spies and undercover defense contractors was only getting started. In September, she was named editor of The Nation, an English-language daily often described as “Fox News in Pakistan.” (Earlier this year, one columnist dubbed Mazari the “Ann Coulter of Pakistan.”) Throughout the fall, The Nation has published multiple front-page stories on the location of new “Blackwater dens” around Islamabad. It featured a news story last month titled “mysterious us nationals,” which described “two suspicious foreigners wandering in the guise of journalists … [who] seemingly belonged to the US spy agency CIA.” The proof? That they “were driven towards the US Consulate.” (The “mysterious US nationals” turned out to be an English freelance photographer and an Australian photographer who works for Getty.)
The low point, however, came a couple of weeks earlier, when The Nation fronted a story titled “journalists as spies in fata?”–a reference to Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas–that cited anonymous law enforcement sources accusing Matthew Rosenberg, an American correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, of working as a “chief operative” for the CIA, Blackwater, and the Mossad. “We put in a question mark,” said Mazari, referring to the punctuation at the end of the headline, when I asked her whether she realized she was endangering Rosenberg’s life. (Daniel Pearl, also a Journal reporter, was kidnapped in Karachi in early 2002, accused of being a CIA agent, and beheaded.)
In the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States and Pakistan are ostensibly on the same side. But, as the Obama administration prepares to pour tens of thousands of new troops into Afghanistan, it faces a daunting array of challenges from its allies in Islamabad. Perhaps none is as disturbing as the anti-Americanism that is being fueled by Pakistan’s mainstream media. In a twisted development, most Pakistanis now view the United States as their greatest threat and enemy, usurping a place that India seemed primed to occupy eternally. And Mazari, who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, may represent the vanguard of a well-educated, English-speaking, secular elite increasingly charged with hypernationalism and antipathy toward the United States. Mixing fact with demagoguery, and sometimes outright fiction, she represents yet another obstacle to Washington’s war on the Taliban.
January 8, 2010