US Warns on Pakistan Travel, Pulls Lahore Diplomats

The State Department warned U.S.
citizens to defer non-essential travel to Pakistan and pulled
most American diplomats from its consulate in Lahore because of
security threats posed by extremist groups in the region.

Non-emergency personnel were ordered withdrawn from the
post in Lahore because of “specific threats concerning the U.S.
consulate,” the State Department said yesterday in its warning.
The department is taking appropriate steps to protect employees,
according to a senior agency official who asked not to be
identified discussing the moves.

“The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist
groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout
Pakistan,” the department said. The travel warning marks an
escalation from an earlier notice to U.S. citizens about
security concerns in the South-Asian country.

The consulate drawdown and heightened travel alert for
Pakistan are the latest U.S. actions in response to concerns
that al-Qaeda or affiliated groups are planning an attack on
American interests.

Last week, President Barack Obama’s administration decided
to temporarily close almost two-dozen U.S. embassies and
consulates from West Africa to South Asia. The Lahore consulate
wasn’t on the earlier list of diplomatic posts to be closed.

The closings were prompted by the intercept of
communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s
successor as al-Qaeda chief in Pakistan, and the head of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Earlier this week, the
U.S. flew government personnel out of Yemen and urged other
Americans to leave that country.

Holiday Message

Pakistan government offices were closed today for Eid al-Fitr celebrations. In a holiday message yesterday, Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif urged Pakistanis to “unite on a national
agenda against terrorism and extremism,” according to
Associated Press of Pakistan.

An attack today in the southwest city of Quetta, 440 miles
(710 kilometers) from Lahore, killed six people and wounded 15,
the Associated Press reported, citing police officer Bashir
Ahmad Barohi. The gunmen were targeting a former provincial
minister, Ali Madad Jatak, who escaped unharmed, AP said.

Relations with Pakistan have been delicate since 2011, when
a U.S. raid killed bin Laden, who was living in a compound in
Abbottabad, Pakistan, and two dozen Pakistanis were killed
accidentally in a U.S. airstrike. Pakistan shut resupply routes
for American forces in Afghanistan for more than six months.

Drone Strikes

A particular source of tension is the U.S. use of drone
strikes against suspected terrorists, which Pakistanis consider
a violation of their sovereignty. During a visit to Pakistan
last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a
television interview that he saw the possibility of ending the
covert counterterrorism program “ very, very soon.”

Obama, during an Aug. 6 interview on NBC’s “Tonight Show
With Jay Leno,” defended the embassy and consulate closings as
a necessary precaution.

“Whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific
enough that we can take some specific precautions within a
certain time frame, then we do so,” the president said. “This
radical violent extremism is still out there and we have to stay
on top of it.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
David Lerman in Washington at
dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
John Walcott at
jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


Enlarge image
U.S. Warns Against Pakistan Travel Citing Threat to Lahore Post

U.S. Warns Against Pakistan Travel Citing Threat to Lahore Post

U.S. Warns Against Pakistan Travel Citing Threat to Lahore Post

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistani security personnel stand outside the U.S. consulate in Lahore on Aug. 5, 2013.

Pakistani security personnel stand outside the U.S. consulate in Lahore on Aug. 5, 2013. Photographer: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images