Shireen M Mazari It would be bordering on a slapstick comedy routine if the issue was not so serious. The daily drama we are witnessing in Islamabad and Lahore of US nationals in four wheelers with tinted glasses breaking the law and refusing to submit themselves to the law enforcement authorities. Without IDs but often with prohibitive bore weapons (without licenses), these Americans are held for a few hours and then released unconditionally after pressure from unknown Pakistani sources and the US embassy and consulate. At a time when not only the founder of Blackwater, but also the CIA, have both admitted that this company is working in Pakistan and till now was in cahoots with the CIA itself; questions are being raised about why US nationals are deliberately indulging in this game of brinkmanship with the law of the land - almost deliberately drawing attention to themselves. Is this mere muscle flexing to send a message to the Pakistani public at large about US power and penetration in their country? Or is there something more to it all? Before looking into this question, two points also need to be made about Interior Minister Rehman Malik. First, he had committed to resigning if the presence of Blackwater could be proven in Pakistan. Well, if the CIA itself is saying they were working with this company in Pakistan, there should be no need for any other proof On a more important note, though, Mr Malik has offered some ridiculous explanation as to why the Pakistani law enforcement agencies cant do anything to the Americans breaking the law in Pakistan. This is simply not correct factually in terms of international law and diplomatic practices. First, even diplomats carrying their IDs can be stopped by police and searched - they cant be prosecuted for a crime unless they waive off their immunity. But more important, those with no IDs and with no diplomatic immunity can certainly be stopped, searched, arrested and charged under the law of Pakistan. Merely working for the US embassy or Consulate does not give diplomatic immunity to the person concerned. In fact, many US nationals working for their government do not have diplomatic status and therefore immunity, including most of their covert operatives. Certainly the private security company personnel have no diplomatic immunity at all, even though the US diplomats may constantly be coming to their rescue. Legally, though, they can only ensure that their non-diplomatic detained citizens get access to legal services and are looked after properly. They cant compel the Pakistani authorities to release them. Equally important, in legal terms, is the fact that even US diplomats with the immunity can only publicly carry arms if they have been permitted to do so by the host government. So Mr Malik should stop covering up for what now clearly seems to be an acquiescence by the Interior Ministry to these armed activities of US nationals - many of them neither US officials nor diplomats. Coming to the issue of why US nationals seem to be deliberately violating the law in a highly visible manner. Is it simply random acts or is there a pattern and a serious intent behind these forays? Clearly, there is a pattern to these actions. * First, weapons are being transported by the US across the country and for every vehicle the police manage to stop, a few will be getting through. This seems to be a pattern now - to use one vehicle effectively as a live decoy for others to get through. The assumption correctly being that the caught decoy would eventually also be set free through US pressure. Our officialdom has played well to this US tune despite individual police officials who have sought to counter the pressure. What and who is receiving these arms would be interesting but with General Durrani, former head of ISI, also conceding that Blackwater has a hand in Pakistans bomb explosions and the Pakistani authorities need to give this US-terrorism link in Pakistan more attention. * This US link to terrorism has to be understood in the context of not only keeping the country destabilised, but also of hoping to push the people more sympathetically towards the US and against the militants. While the latter has happened, the former has not and the US is being blamed equally for the increase in terrorism in Pakistan. If more overt proof of the linkage was needed, the arrest of the five Americans in Sargodha is there. How could these people come together to Pakistan, evade the FBI, get visas and so on? And why is the US in such a hurry to have them deported? It is in Pakistans security interests to ensure these five are not deported as we may learn a lot about the US and its dirty covert games in this country. * Beyond the terrorism angle and supply of weapons, there is another pattern that can now be discerned behind these challenging forays by US nationals in or near sensitive areas. This is to test the security alerts around the sensitive areas - be they the Cantonment area of Lahore or entry points into Islamabad and within Islamabad. Let us not forget the listening post within the Sihala Police Academy also where even the Commandant cant enter But it is not simply testing the security responses. It is also to test how firmly our law enforcers, including the military police and intelligence agencies, will enforce the law against US pressure. After all, today it is the Lahore Cantonment area or Golra Morrh but eventually it may be airbases or sensitive nuclear sites. If these US personnel reach there and are intercepted, will they get away with it on the intervention of the Interior Ministry or the US embassy? This is what is clearly being tested and that is why there is this high profile challenge that is waged at one point or another by the Americans. Of course, the attempt to enter the Cantonment in Lahore is also directly checking out the level of military alertness, accessibility and security in the sensitive cantonment zones. Every time a US nationals vehicle is caught, more security information is gathered. Again the Pakistanis so far have played into the hands of the US game planners. The stories from Peshawar where Dynacorp has unprecedented access within the security apparatus are a nightmare. * Add to this the alleged spies being caught and then released despite the fact that they have no diplomatic status, were caught in sensitive locations with no passports or visas. What can our intelligence agencies be thinking of in allowing these culprits to go free? These are dangerous games and our nuclear and other sensitive assets are the eventual targets. So what can be done? First, all US officials working for the embassy and consulates should be kept confined to inner city limits. Second, all foreigners should be banned from entering cantonments and other sensitive locations. But, most important, Parliament should demand of the Interior Ministry a list of all US citizens who were granted visas over the last five years, type of visa, multiple or single entry, for how long and what capacity did they enter Pakistan in? This will help as a starting point to uncover how many Americans are in Pakistan right now, how many have been here, and what they have been doing in the country.