Plans to Expand U.S. Embassy Throw Pakistani Rumor Mill Into High Gear

September 10, 2009


After eight years of a U.S.-led war across the border in neighboring Afghanistan, many Pakistanis have tired of the American presence inside and around their country. Nowadays, with the U.S. military launching an increasing number of missile strikes on Pakistani turf, the level of local anti-American sentiment has soared.

Adding fuel to the fire most recently have been U.S. plans to expand the American embassy in Islamabad. In the coming months and years, hundreds of new staffers will be hired, and the physical size of the embassy grounds will swell by nearly half to accommodate them. American diplomats say the changes are needed to support the expanding U.S. mission in Pakistan, which calls for huge influxes of humanitarian and economic aid to the country.

But already, the powerful Pakistani media is off and running, pumping out unsubstantiated rumors about the U.S.’s “real” intentions. Some outlets are claiming that Americans are looking to set up another Guantanamo Bay-style detention center nearby, while others have suggested that contractors from notorious security firm Blackwater — now reformed as Xe Services — have been hired to do the U.S. government’s dirty work inside the country.

All of this has been flatly denied by the U.S. government, of course. But such rumors are dangerous. In Pakistan’s media-saturated culture, perception is everything. The U.S. must work to ensure not only that Pakistani media gets the facts straight, but that haphazard rumors don’t become entrenched and accepted as fact in the mainstream.

To do this, American representatives in the region must be prepared to launch a sustained P.R. campaign to counter such disinformation. Otherwise, an already daunting U.S. mission to stabilize Pakistan will become that much harder down the road.

Russell Sticklor


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