Tensions and Operational Challenges in Pakistan
0 comments | by Scott Stewart
On June 4, four U.S. diplomats assigned to the Consulate General of the United States in Peshawar, Pakistan, were stopped at a military checkpoint and temporarily detained after refusing to allow their two vehicles to be searched. The diplomats -- including a vice consul -- were travelling in a two-vehicle motorcade and were accompanied by three Pakistani Foreign Service National (FSN) security officers. According to media reports, the Pakistani military has charged that the diplomats had travelled to Malakand without first obtaining permission from the Pakistani government. Malakand is a city located about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Peshawar in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province. Because of the problems Pakistan has had with foreign jihadists in its border badlands, all foreigners are required to obtain something called a No Objection Certificate from Pakistan's Interior Ministry before visiting areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Furthermore, the Pakistani press noted that the Pakistani military also objected to the Americans and their Pakistani FSNs' being armed and operating vehicles with fake license plates to disguise the diplomatic vehicles. At its core, though, this incident is not about these small infractions. Indeed, Peshawar is the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and diplomats stationed there already have received host country permission to be in the province. Additionally, U.S. diplomats assigned to Peshawar rarely venture outside of their secure compounds without a protective detail because of the extreme security threat in the city. Rather, this incident is a product of the strain in U.S.-Pakistani relations.
The threat against Us diplomats in Peshawar is quite acute. In august 2008, American Consul General in Peshawar Lynne Tracy survived a small-arms attack against her motorcade. In November 2008, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Peshawar, Stephen Vance, was assassinated in an attack on his vehicle. In June 2009, Peshawar's Pearl Continental Hotel, which housed many foreign diplomats and U.N. personnel, was attacked with a massive vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), and in April 2010 the American Consulate building was the target of an elaborate VBIED plot. In May 2011, a U.S. diplomatic motorcade was attacked in Peshawar using a remotely detonated VBIED that was activated as the motorcade drove past. Jihadists also have attacked numerous Pakistani targets inside the city, including military, police and other government officials. Given the threat in Peshawar, it makes sense that the vice consul would travel in an armed motorcade to attend a meeting -- especially in Malakand, which is even more remote than Peshawar and even more dangerous for a U.S. government employee. The use of fake vehicle tags is also logical. There are places where it is beneficial to announce one's diplomatic status, but in Peshawar, diplomatic vehicles and premises are targeted specifically for attacks. It is also an environment in which the militants possess the weaponry to engage a fully armoured vehicle, so it is much better to attempt to be low key than to maintain a high-profile protective detail. American and other diplomats frequently do this in Pakistan, so it was somewhat disingenuous of the Pakistani military to raise it as a point of contention in this case. From the configuration of the motorcade as shown on Pakistani television, it appears that it was intended to safeguard the vice consul, who was presumably riding in the rear seat of the first vehicle with a U.S. driver and the agent in charge of his protective detail riding in the vehicle's front passenger seat. The security follow-car appears to have been staffed by a U.S. shift leader riding in the front passenger seat and a Pakistani FSN driver and two FSN security officers in the rear of the vehicle. It is not clear if the three U.S. security officers are full-time government employees or contractors. They reportedly were carrying U.S. diplomatic passports at the time of the incident, but not everyone who holds a diplomatic passport is afforded full diplomatic immunity. Still, it is likely they were at the very least members of the administrative and technical staff and that they would be afforded functional diplomatic immunity for activities related to their official duties. This case is quite unlike the January 2011 Raymond Davis case, in which a contract security officer assigned to the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore shot and killed two men who he claims attempted to rob him. In the June 4 incident, the security officers were with the diplomat they were protecting and clearly were performing their assigned duties. This means they would be immune from prosecution for any violations the Pakistanis can cite in this incident. However, the FSN security officers could find themselves in a much worse position if the Pakistani government decides to pursue charges against them.