Parts of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are mounting what American officials here describe as a campaign to harass American diplomats, fraying relations at a critical moment when the Obama administration is demanding more help to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The campaign includes the refusal to extend or approve visas for more than 100 American officials and the frequent searches of American diplomatic vehicles in major cities, said an American official briefed on the cases.
The problems affected military attachÃ©s, C.I.A. officers, development experts, junior level diplomats and others, a senior American diplomat said. As a result, some American aid programs to Pakistan, which President Obama has called a critical ally, are ”œgrinding to a halt,” the diplomat said.
American helicopters used by Pakistan to fight militants can no longer be serviced because visas for 14 American mechanics have not been approved, the diplomat said. Reimbursements to Pakistan of nearly $1 billion a year for its counterterrorism operations were suspended because embassy accountants had to leave the country.
”œThere’s an incredible disconnect between what they want of us and the fact we can’t get the visas,” the diplomat said.
Pakistani officials acknowledged the situation but said the menacing atmosphere resulted from American arrogance and provocations, like taking photographs in sensitive areas, and a lack of understanding of how divided Pakistanis were about the alliance with the United States.
American and Pakistani officials declined to be identified while speaking about the issues because of their senior positions and the desire not to further inflame tensions.
The campaign comes after months of rising anti-American sentiment here and complaints by the military that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has grown too dependent on a new $7.5 billion, five-year aid plan from Washington.
It also appears to be an attempt to blunt the planned expansion of the United States Embassy to 800 Americans from 500 in the next 18 months, growth that American officials say is necessary to channel the expanded American assistance.
”œThey don’t want more Americans here,” another American diplomat said. ”œThey’re not sure what the Americans are doing. It’s pretty pervasive.”
The harassment has grown so frequent that American officials said they regarded it as a concerted effort by parts of the military and intelligence services that had grown resentful of American demands to step up the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Though the United States has been sending large amounts of military assistance to the Pakistani Army, and helping its premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the campaign shows the ambivalence, even ”œhatred” toward the United States in those quarters, the American official said.
A Pakistani security official, who has kept a tally of many of the incidents, was not sympathetic, saying the Americans had brought the problems on themselves.
”œUnfortunately, the Americans are arrogant,” the Pakistani security official said. ”œThey think of themselves as omnipotent. That’s how they come across.”
For instance, he said, the Pakistani police were not harassing American diplomats as they drove up to checkpoints, but rather were responding to provocations by American officials.
He cited the example of a recent report in some Pakistani newspapers that an American diplomat had been taking photographs in a military area of the city of Lahore.
The reports were false, an American Embassy spokesman said. The suspected diplomat, a technical support officer, was not carrying a camera, the spokesman said.
In another instance, the Pakistani security official said, Americans in a sport utility vehicle last week fled after police officers tried to search their car at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Islamabad, the capital.
The embassy spokesman denied that Americans had fled the checkpoint. ”œNonsense, diplomats don’t run away,” he said.
The searching of American diplomatic vehicles at the many checkpoints in the cities has become one of the biggest irritants.
Because diplomatic license plates registered to the embassy would provide an easy target for militants, the Americans reached an agreement some time ago with the Pakistani government that their official plates would be carried inside the car, the spokesman said.
But the absence of plates left the American cars vulnerable to searches at checkpoints, he said. Under international diplomatic conventions diplomatic cars are not subject to searches, and American diplomats were instructed not to permit searches beyond opening the trunk, the spokesman said.
The Pakistani security official said, ”œWe are in a state of war that calls for extraordinary measures.” His vehicle is searched every morning he goes to the office in Islamabad, and Americans should expect the same, he said.
He also said the Americans should not be surprised about the visa problem. But the issue is now affecting Pakistan’s own interests, American officials said.
At least 135 American diplomats have been refused extensions on their visas, the senior American diplomat said, leaving some sections of the embassy operating at 60 percent of capacity.
One of the most harmful consequences, the diplomat said, is the scaling back of helicopter missions by the Frontier Corps paramilitary troops fighting the Taliban in the tribal areas because of a lack of trained American mechanics.
The last of the American Embassy’s five accountants left Pakistan this week because his visa had expired, resulting in the suspension of American reimbursements, the diplomat said.
Much of the heightened suspicions about American diplomats appears to revolve around persistent stories in the Pakistani press about the presence of the American security company Blackwater, now called Xe Services, in Pakistan.
The embassy has denied Xe operates in Pakistan. But those statements have collided with reports from Washington that Xe operatives were employed by the C.I.A. to load missiles onto drones that are used to kill Qaeda militants in the tribal areas.
The public distrust toward American officials has led many American diplomats to keep a low profile, and adopt a bunker mentality, American diplomats acknowledge. Americans are rarely seen in restaurants or shopping areas, and are in fact warned by security advisers to steer clear of such places.
The skittishness between the sides was put aside Wednesday when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was taken on a helicopter tour of the tribal area of South Waziristan by the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to show off what the Pakistanis had achieved against the Taliban.
No Pakistani or American reporter was taken along, a sign that the Pakistanis preferred to keep the American help in South Waziristan quiet.
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