By Ray Fleming

IT is not easy to sympathise with Afghanistan's President Karsai but there is one complaint he makes which seems to have some substance -- the excessive number of private security contractors which the United States employs to undertake tasks that would appear to be more appropriately handled by Americans in uniform. The status of these freelance mercenaries was first questioned in Iraq where those employed by the Blackwater company (now renamed as Xe) often seemed to be a law unto themselves. Their presence has been extended to Afghanistan and Hamid Karsai says he has no way of overseeing their activities even when they are involved with local civilians.

A variation on this theme is now threatening relations between Pakistan and the United States following the killing of two Pakistan civilians by a member of the US Embassy's “technical and administrative” operation. Raymond Davis shot dead two men who approached the car he was driving in Lahore; he took them to be assailants; he shot them with the fully loaded automatic pistol he was carrying and drove away The Pakistan authorities arrested Davis but the US Embassy claims he has diplomatic immunity even though he is not listed as a member of the US Foreign Service. For the moment there is a diplomatic stand-still but in the streets of Lahore and more widely in Pakistan anti-Americanism has found a new impetus from this case.