Pakistan Reported to Be Harassing U.S. Diplomats

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 attachés, 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.

This post was read 139 times.

About author View all posts

Brian Downing

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • that there hasn’t been more violence directed at Americans there. However if they decide to use the drones to attack Quetta all bets will be off on the safety of any Americans there. I give Pakistanis high fives for not allowing the US and their contractors free reign in their country.

  • But, not knowing what we’re doing obviates any chance of making good decisions.

    “We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks.” ~ Edwin Arlington Robinson

  • …one’s sovereignty, however I’m a little less enthused about this particular implementation. These assholes have consistently pursued a strategy that has killed my countrymen – a strategy that actually doesn’t serve their nation’s long-term interests, but instead helps buttress the power and serve the competing interests of a quite corrupt military-politico establishment. Stacked up against that, condemnations of American arrogance don’t cut much mustard with me.

    “Let them reap the whirlwind; they worked hard to earn it.” ~ not-Richard Haass

  • what I was thinking about was reports of black suv’s taking over the roads and acting like they owned the place. I imagine Pakistani’s were picturing a bit of Iraq(on top of their endless conspiracy theories of the west). I do agree they need to clear up the VISA situation, but have the feeling the US has been extremely ham handed in how they are handling things.

  • …never to overlook the possibility of ham-handedness [oy, and oy again], I have the very distinct conviction that this is more due to the existence of powerful factions within the Pakistani national security state that are pursuing aims directly opposed to our interests.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • especially now with calls for Zardari to step down. I’m sure the US would like to guide what happens next in Pakistani politics. Now I would really like to know about all those public institutions the US have been involving themselves with. 😉

    Saturday, 19 Dec, 2009 In a different time and a different context, the escalating accusations and counter-accusations between the US and Pakistan could perhaps have been the source of some mirth. But at present, it is a serious, and completely unnecessary, distraction from core issues and common interests.

    The latest twist is that the American side has decided to go public with its unhappiness over Pakistani visas for US officials being ‘delayed’ and American diplomats being ‘harassed’ in the country. The Americans are warning that visa delays could ‘disrupt’ vital US programmes, both military and civilian, in Pakistan and that harassment of their diplomats could ‘vitiate’ the relationship between the two allies in the fight against militancy. Connecting the dots between these complaints and the recent flurry of American accusations that Pakistan isn’t doing enough to help stabilise Afghanistan is not very difficult. Perhaps what is going on is a complex game of signalling, where both sides are trying to make the other uncomfortable without crossing any ‘red lines.’

    But even if there is some method in the madness, it must stop. Pakistan is already at the top of high-risk countries for foreigners and few citizens of any country are in any case willing to visit for whatever reason. Yet the country very much needs foreign aid workers, diplomats and other officials, both private and public. So, for example, using delay tactics over visas to signal the state’s possible displeasure over the American government’s cage rattling is self-defeating. The country simply cannot afford to become any more isolated from the outside world. Diplomats and visa-seekers must not become pawns in larger, strategic disputes with the US, or any other country.

    On the other side, the US needs to recognise that attempting to squeeze or bully the Pakistani security establishment into falling in line with American interests risks undermining the healthier aspects of Pak-US cooperation. A quick scan of major American media outlets and newspapers in recent weeks throws up a paradox: since President Obama announced his new strategy for Afghanistan recently, the bulk of the commentary of American officials has focused on Pakistan. It appears as though the Obama administration really does believe that Pakistan is the key problem and not Afghanistan. In which case, it calls into the question the very foundation of the relationship between the US and Pakistan, a relationship American officials have frequently proclaimed is long term and ‘non-transactional.’

    Our suggestion: drop the public bickering and the tit-for-tat games and get down to the real business of squaring the differences in the strategies to defeat militancy in the region. Neither country can win this war on its own and their public comments and actions should reflect that reality.

Leave a Reply