Flight of the Kestral
I was US deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics in the Pentagon from January 2006 to January 2009. I read Jeremy Scahill’s “The Secret US War in Pakistan” [Dec. 21/28] and found it to be a regrettable and baseless attack on Kestral Holdings and its distinguished CEO, Liaquat Ali Baig.
Kestral is a respected Pakistani firm that performed substantial work there for my Pentagon portfolio. There was nothing secret about it. Given the widespread appreciation for Kestral’s work, I am surprised that Scahill did not seek me out for comment.
Here are the facts: Kestral’s efforts have helped Pakistan resist extremism and the narcotics trafficking that sustains it. But Scahill–citing anonymous “sources”–distorted Kestral’s work and attacked Baig, endangering him, his family and his employees. Scahill certainly appreciates the weight of this attack and presumably is prepared for the consequences.
Today Pakistan and the United States are serious and willing partners against extremism along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. It was not always thus, and Kestral has been a positive influence. During my Pentagon service, and working with Pakistani authorities, Kestral executed important construction and procurement projects under the counternarcotics rubric. Kestral’s assistance and good work helped build relationships with the Pakistani Frontier Corps and Pakistani Army that pay dividends today for Pakistan, the United States and Afghanistan.
Scahill’s article implies that Kestral’s work with my portfolio was contrary to the will of Congress. I reject this. We kept the Democratically controlled Congress informed of activities involving Kestral in Pakistan. We were proud of these achievements and wanted Congress to see the tangible benefit of cooperation with Pakistan and to appreciate the capable Pakistani company accomplishing the work.
Construction work in Pakistan is unlike paving a road in Long Beach. It requires reliability, efficiency, competence and courage. Under the most difficult circumstances, Kestral and Liaquat Ali Baig demonstrated all of these qualities.
Scahill unjustifiably injures Kestral’s reputation and mischaracterizes events. He relied on sources too timid to identify themselves but only too willing to smear Kestral and endanger its CEO, his family and his employees. This speaks volumes about Scahill’s sources and indicates clearly that something other than “good government” motivated them.
The reckless and potentially deadly Scahill attack on Kestral and Baig reminds us of the harm that can be done by irresponsible and ideologically motivated reporting. It offers no credible insight into crucial events and no solutions. Without accountability, it heaps criticism on courageous people like Baig, Pakistani security forces and their partners in Pakistan performing dangerous work. Attacks from the sidelines by Scahill and his camp make cooperative international efforts to roll back extremism harder.