Thursday, January 07, 2010

US complains of Pakistan harassment of diplomats

Sounds like things are getting a bit nasty in Pakistan.

Though to be fair, it isn't uncommon for diplomats to get harassed in country (we got it fairly often in Jerusalem. Our Consul General, the chief of our mission, was once held up for hours at a check point where they insisted he get out of the vehicle (not safe) or get a call from the Ambassador in Tel Aviv (the consulate does not report to Tel Aviv). We also regularly had "visitors" in our homes.

Here is a recent AP story on the issue in Pakistan:

US complains of Pakistan harassment of diplomats
By NAHAL TOOSI - Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD - (AP) The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan complained Thursday that its diplomats are being harassed and detained as they travel in the country, illustrating heightened tensions between the allies as America expands its presence here.

The rare public protest reflects the rising frustration among U.S. officials over alleged Pakistani efforts to stymie Washington's moves to add hundreds more staff and more space to its embassy in Islamabad.

U.S. officials say they need more room and people to help disburse a $7.5 billion humanitarian aid package to Pakistan, whose cooperation Washington needs to fight al-Qaida-allied militants along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

But suspicion of U.S. motives abounds among Pakistanis: Many believe the U.S. is simply flooding the country with more spies whose ultimate aim is destabilizing Pakistan and taking over its nuclear program.

In recent weeks, American diplomats have faced lengthy delays in receiving approvals for visas and visa extensions. Some also have been stopped at checkpoints by police who have in a couple of cases temporarily confiscated their vehicles. Some of the incidents have been publicized in the Pakistani press.

On Wednesday, two Pakistani employees of a U.S. consulate and their police escort were detained while traveling in Baluchistan province in the country's southwest to prepare for a visit involving a development project, an embassy statement said. It called upon Pakistani officials "to cease these contrived incidents involving U.S. mission vehicles and personnel."

The statement also quoted U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson as pushing Pakistan to implement an agreement to identify diplomatic vehicles in a safe manner.

The agreement lets those vehicles carry normal Pakistani license plates on the outside _ so as not to be identified as U.S. vehicles and easily targeted by militants _ while carrying special diplomatic plates inside to show polices, embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said.

"There was an agreement on that," Snelsire said. "We're waiting for the agreement to be implemented."

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Snelsire said U.S. Embassy employees were still experiencing delays in visa approvals, despite appeals to Pakistani authorities.

"They don't tend to reject visas; they just don't issue them," Snelsire said. "We're still working on refining the process."

Foreigners coming to work in Pakistan are often subject to background checks by multiple ministries and agencies, including Pakistan's powerful intelligence apparatus.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has plans to go from about 500 American employees to more than 800 over the next 18 months, largely to accommodate the aid package, which provides $1.5 billion annually over five years for economic and social programs.

The package is designed to strengthen Pakistan's civilian government and comes as a string of violent militant attacks have rocked the country _ apparent retaliation for its anti-Taliban army offensives.

The package's requirements for accounting and oversight have rankled Pakistanis including top brass in the army, an institution that has ruled the country for about half its 62-year existence.

And this is the latest press release from the embassy.

Press Releases 2010

U.S. Mission To Pakistan Concerned By Harassment of U.S. Diplomatic Vehicles

January 7, 2010

Islamabad - The U.S. Mission to Pakistan is concerned about the continued provocative actions and false allegations against U.S. personnel working to implement the new partnership between the leaders of Pakistan and the United States. The U.S.Embassy today called for immediate action by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has responsibility to facilitate proper arrangements under which a foreign mission may operate with full security.

In the most recent incident, on January 6, 2010, a U.S. Consulate General vehicle with two Pakistani employees of the Consulate and their Sindh police constable escort were detained on Wednesday when traveling in Gwadar. The staff was preparing for the upcoming visit of U.S. development assistance staff to one of Pakistan's most impoverished regions. The U.S. Embassy emphasizes that all U.S. vehicles in Pakistan are appropriately registered with the Pakistani authorities and carry at all times full documentation attesting to their legal status. The two Consulate employees and their police escort were carrying all the required documents and had met in Turbat with the Police Commissioner as part of their work.

Speaking in Karachi today, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is obliged to provide proper arrangements in order to address the security concerns of foreign diplomats in Pakistan. The Ambassador offered assurances that American diplomats and their staff will comply with all Government of Pakistan procedures, but that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet implemented the agreed upon procedures.

The U.S. Mission renews its call on Government of Pakistan officials to implement immediately the mutually agreed upon procedures for the issuance of license plates to U.S. Mission vehicles and to cease these contrived incidents involving U.S. Mission vehicles and personnel.

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