US authorities warn of safety risk for those visiting Pakistan

News about: Pakistan

February 02, 2012

The State Department warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Pakistan. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Pakistan dated August 8, 2011, to update information on security incidents and remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Pakistan.

Following the deaths of twenty-four Pakistani military personnel on November 26, 2011, protests have taken place across Pakistan against the United States, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and NATO. There have also been widespread demonstrations and large political rallies condemning drone strikes and Pakistans ongoing energy crisis. These protests are likely to continue. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

The presence of al-Qaida, Taliban elements, and indigenous militant sectarian groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Terrorists regularly attack civilian, government, and foreign targets. The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit, such as shopping areas, hotels, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, schools, and outdoor recreation events. Terrorists have disguised themselves as Pakistani security personnel to gain access to targeted areas. Some media reports have falsely identified U.S. diplomats – and to a lesser extent U.S. and other Western journalists and non-governmental organization workers - as being intelligence operatives or private security personnel.

Since January 2010, terrorists have executed coordinated attacks with multiple operatives using portable weaponry such as guns, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), suicide vests, and car bombs in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi. Recent attacks included armed assaults on heavily guarded sites such as the naval air base in Karachi, the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, police offices in Lahore and Karachi, military installations in Lahore, religious shrines including the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore and the Baba Farid Ganj Shakar shrine in southern Punjab, religious processions in Lahore, a hospital in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and a food distribution center in Bajaur Agency.

RECENT ATTACKS
There have been several terrorist attacks in the past few years, targeting civilians and security personnel. On November 16, 2011, a vehicle driven by suicide bombers exploded in the Defence area of Karachi, killing the three bombers and two police officers. On May 20, 2011, a U.S. Consulate General vehicle in Peshawar was attacked, killing one person and injuring a dozen, including two U.S. employees of the Mission. On April 5, 2010, terrorists carried out a complex attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar, with several Pakistani security and military personnel killed or wounded. On February 3, 2010, ten persons, including three U.S. military personnel, were killed and 70 injured in a suicide bombing at a new girls’ school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Governor of the Punjab province and the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs were assassinated in Islamabad in January and March 2011, respectively. Since the summer of 2011, there have been hundreds of ethnically-motivated targeted killings in Karachi. Targeted attacks against government officials, tribal elders, and law enforcement personnel continue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces. Suicide bomb attacks have occurred at Islamabad universities, schools, rallies, places of worship, and major marketplaces in Lahore and Peshawar.

Additionally, there were reports of religious intolerance in 2010-2011. Members of minority communities were victims of targeted killings. There were also accusations of blasphemy – a crime that carries the death penalty in Pakistan – against Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Sunni extremist execution-style attacks on Shia pilgrims in Balochistan represented a disturbing escalation of sectarian violence. In January 2012, more than 18 people were killed in a bomb attack on a Shia religious procession. Foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, on valid missionary visas have encountered increased scrutiny from local authorities since early 2011. Local authorities are generally less responsive and may not operate with the level of professionalism that U.S. citizens may be accustomed to in the United States.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS FOR GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL
Government personnel travel between the Embassy and Consulates may be restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. Government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted. U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency and to minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Only a limited number of official visitors are placed in hotels, and for limited stays. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission places areas such as hotels, markets, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly urged to avoid hotels that do not apply stringent security measures and to maintain good situational awareness, particularly when visiting locations frequented by Westerners.

Access to many areas of Pakistan, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border and the area adjacent to the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed territory of Kashmir, is restricted by local government authorities for non-Pakistanis. Travel to any restricted region requires official permission from the Government of Pakistan. Failure to obtain such permission in advance can result in arrest and detention by Pakistani authorities. Due to security concerns the U.S. Government currently allows only essential travel within the FATA by U.S. officials. Travel to much of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Balochistan is also restricted.

GENERAL SAFETY AND SECURITY
Since the announcement that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, U.S. citizens should be aware of a possible increase in the threat level throughout the country. This may include an increased threat against Westerners.

Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur regularly throughout Pakistan on very short notice. Demonstrations often have taken on an anti-U.S. or anti-Western character, and U.S. citizens are urged to avoid large gatherings.

The Mission reiterates its advice to all U.S. citizens to take measures for their safety and security at all times. These measures include maintaining good situational awareness, avoiding crowds, and keeping a low profile. The Mission reminds U.S. citizens that even peaceful demonstrations may become violent and advises U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens should avoid setting patterns by varying times and routes for all required travel. U.S. citizens should ensure that their travel documents and visas are valid at all times. Official Americans are instructed to avoid use of public transportation and restrict their use of personal vehicles in response to security concerns.

U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan have also been kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons. Reported kidnappings include the June 2011 kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Lahore while en route to his business. The U.S. citizen was released after his family paid a ransom. In August 2011, a U.S. citizen in Lahore was kidnapped from his residence. Al Qaida later claimed responsibility and issued a list of demands in exchange for his release. Other incidents include the 2010 kidnapping of a U.S. citizen child in Karachi, and the 2009 kidnapping of a U.S. citizen official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Balochistan. The kidnapping of Pakistani citizens and other foreign nationals, usually for ransom, continues to increase dramatically nationwide.

ENTRY/EXIT DIFFICULTIES
U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan have been arrested, deported, harassed, and detained for overstaying their Pakistani visas or for traveling to Pakistan with the inappropriate visa classification. U.S. citizens who attempt to renew or extend their visas while in Pakistan have been left without legal status for an extended period of time and subjected to harassment or interrogation by local authorities. In 2011, the number of U.S. citizens arrested, detained, and prosecuted for visa overstay increased markedly across the country.

Security threats may, on short notice, temporarily restrict the ability of the U.S. Missions, particularly in Peshawar, to provide routine consular services. All U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply for renewal of travel documents at least three months prior to expiration.

U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in Pakistan despite this Travel Warning are encouraged to enroll with the Embassy in Islamabad or the Consulates General in Karachi, Lahore, or Peshawar. This enrollment can be completed online through the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) available on the State Department website. U.S. citizens without internet access should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate General for information on registering in person. Enrollment enables citizens to obtain updated information on travel and security within Pakistan via the emergency alert system.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5, and can be reached by telephone at (92-51) 208-0000; Consular Section telephone (92-51) 208-2700; and fax (92-51) 282-2632.

The U.S. Consulate General in Karachi is located at Plot 3-5 New TPX Area, Mai Kolachi Road. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance should call the Consular Section in Karachi at (92-21) 3527-5000. The fax number is (92-21) 3561-2420.

The U.S. Consulate General in Lahore is located on 50 Sharah-E-Abdul Hamid Bin Badees (Old Empress Road), near Shimla Hill Rotary, and can be reached by telephone at (92-42) 3603-4000 and fax: (92-42) 3603- 4212.

The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar is located at 11 Hospital Road, Cantonment, and can be reached by telephone at (92-91) 526-8800 and fax: (92-91) 528-4171.

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

For further information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Pakistan. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. You can also download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.

Source: US Department of State Date: 02-Feb-2012 23:41:24