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Pakistan's Hitmen

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse May 21, 2009

The moment you begin surfing John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” (New York Times Best Seller) images of scores of Pakistani rulers start flashing through the mind; General Ziaul Haq, Gen Pervez Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari, Shaukat Aziz, Shaukat Tareen, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Hameed Asghar Kidwai, Salman Farooqi, Altaf Hussein, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein, Dr Isharat Hussein, Gen Khalid Maqbool, Rehman Malik, Hussein Haqqani, V. A. Jaffery (ex finance advisor), etc. And when Perkins speaks about the manipulative role of the CIA abroad and its exploits through high-profile US corporations, the mind is overwhelmed with the thoughts of the mighty Pakistani establishment -- the GHQ, the ISI and civilian bureaucracy - the Frontier Works Organisation, the National Logistics Cell, Fauji Foundation, Bahria Foundation, Shaheen Foundation, the Army Welfare Trust, and the powerful cement, textile and sugar conglomerates.
The analogy is but natural. Why? Because whether it is Perkin’s world (CIA-guided corporations and IFIs, or Pakistan’s ruling elite) it is all about cheating others, fraudulent practices, self-serving motives, and complete disdain for the consequences of such practices, perpetrated by the US establishment through corporations and by the Pakistani rulers through the GHQ, the prime ministerial and presidential palaces, supported by strong business and industry houses.
Only after a few paragraphs into the book, you start thinking whether Pakistan’s current predicament stems from scores of reckless and self-serving hit-men – not different from the role Perkins and the likes of him played extensions of the mighty US intelligence establishment. It seems the people mentioned above acted as hitmen to take Pakistan down a disastrous journey that meanwhile threatens its very existence?
John Perkins, a brilliant young man, who rose to unusual heights in a stunning corporate career, offers a spine-chilling account of how the US intelligence establishment has been playing at will with countries abroad – cheating them financially through corporations and IFIs, killing their leaders through hired assassins, and engineering political changes through local surrogates in favour of the United States – the icon of democratic freedoms and economic opportunities.
The books details the modus operandi of the US establishment.
“I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and least understood spy organisation; but ultimately I worked for private corporations. The first real economic hit man was back in the early 1950s, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy, who overthrew the government of Iran, a democratically elected government, Mossadegh’s government, who was Time magazine’s person of the year….at that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man was an extremely good one. We didn’t have to worry about the threat of war with Russia when we did it this way,” Perkins wrote.” ‘So, at that point, the decision was made to use organisations like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. to recruit potential economic hit men (EHM) like me and then send us to work for private consulting companies, engineering firms, construction companies, so that if we were caught, there would be no connection with the government.”
The EHM, in Perkins words is “a professional who cheats countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. He funnels money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. His tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex and murder.”
As an EHM, John Perkins’ job was “to convince third-world countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development—loans that were much larger than needed—and to guarantee that the development projects were contracted to US corporations like MAIN, Halliburton, Bechtel, Louise Berger, Stone & Webster, Brown & Root, Arther D.Little. Once these countries were saddled with huge debts, the US government and the international aid agencies allied with it were able to control these economies and to ensure that oil and other resources were channels to serve the interests of building a global empire.”
Perkins says that both Omar Torrijos, leader of Panama and Jaime Roldos, president of Ecuador – both men he worked with – refused to play the game with the US and both were cut down by the CIA -- Torrijos when his airplane blew up, and Roldos when his helicopter exploded, within three months of each other in 1981.

“When a leader of a country refuses to cooperate with economic hit men like Perkins, the jackals from the CIA are called in. If the CIA jackals don’t do the job, then the US Marines are sent in,” (Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan are some of the latest examples).”

Perkins also gives lurid details of how he pimped for a Saudi prince in the 1970s, in an effort to get the Saudi royal family to enter an elaborate deal in which the US would protect the House of Saud. In exchange, the Saudis agreed to stabilise oil prices and use their oil money to purchase treasury bonds, the interest on which would be used to pay US construction firms like Bechtel to build Saudi cities.
To underscore the reckless corporate pursuit of profits, quotes Ecuador’s example. For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forests, the oil companies receive $75, three-quarters of the remaining $25 to paying off the foreign debt and less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most.”
“An EHM is supposed to encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes US commercial interests. Like our counterparts in the Mafia, EHMs provide favours. These take the form of loans to develop infrastructure—electric generating plants, highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston, or San Francisco.”
The consequences of this “convergence of interests of the US Corporate Sector and Foreign Stakeholders” are often control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil or the Panama Canal.
Keeping this in view, think of what has been happening in Pakistan under all those luminaries cited above; faced with an “existential threat” of religious extremists, Pakistan’s foreign debt has swollen to 50 billion dollar and key sectors of the economy in a shambles. Yet, the US is promising tripling of aid. Other lead nations are displaying similar goodwill. The IMF and the World Bank, influenced by the US, are about to lend even more money.
And for bending Pakistan, it is not the typical economic hitmen any more; as Perkins also concedes that in the late 1980s onwards state functionaries (such as John Negroponte, Richard Boucher, Christina Rocca, and several US ambassadors) replaced the classical EHM in view of the new strategic compulsions.
Today, it is Robert Gates, Admiral Mullen, and Richard Holbrooke (practically the successor to Richard Boucher), a combination of the EHM and political arm-twister who are holding out a carrot and a stick simultaneously. The US military establishment is promising more aid for the armed forces and looking for bases inside Pakistan. The Obama-led civilian administration is offering more aid, a mouth-watering prospect for the Pakistani ruling elite. The history, perhaps is repeating itself; in the 1980s, billions of dollars flowed into Pakistan as quid pro quo for executing the CIA-led jihad. In 2009, the US is again about to dole out billions, this time around, to press the army to eliminate scores of godzillas that the Godzilla of Afghan jihad threw up over the past two decades. Will the ruling civilian and military elite be driven by national interest and concern for people, or once again act as HITMEN, only to siphon off funds for their own coffers or?

The writer is head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies. Email: imtiaz@crss.pk