Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 28, 2015. The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all non-essential travel to Pakistan. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated February 24, 2015, to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Pakistan.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi continue to provide consular services for all U.S. citizens in Pakistan. The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar no longer offers consular services, and consular services at the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remain temporarily suspended.
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups continues to pose a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets. Attacks range from targeted killings and kidnappings, to armed assaults against heavily guarded facilities, including Pakistani military installations and airports. The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities, and these measures may vary from day to day. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit. Terrorists and criminal groups regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom.
Protests due to domestic events and against the United States are not uncommon in Pakistan and have the potential to turn violent. Even when violent protests do not target U.S. citizens, they may result in harm to bystanders. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid all protests and large gatherings. Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur regularly throughout Pakistan on very short notice. Demonstrations might take on an anti-U.S. or anti-Western character, and U.S. citizens are urged to avoid large gatherings. In January 2015, protests against the French Charlie Hebdo magazine were staged in many Pakistani cities, including outside the French Consulate in Karachi, after the magazine’s office in Paris was attacked by gunmen angered by cartoons believed to be anti-Islamic. The Mission reminds U.S. citizens that even peaceful demonstrations might become violent and advises U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations. Given multiple demands for resources, local authorities may have limited capacity to respond to requests for assistance.
So far in 2015, there have been more than 200 terror-related incidents in Pakistan. On August 16, a senior Punjab state official and 18 others were killed by a suicide bomber at his political office in Attock. A Pakistani Taliban splinter group named Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility. The same group previously used suicide bombers to attack two Christian churches in Lahore on March 15, killing 15 people and injuring another 70, and a police facility in Lahore on February 17, killing 8 people and injuring another 19.
Targeted attacks against government officials, humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, tribal elders, and law enforcement personnel continue throughout the country. U.S.citizens have also been targeted. On April 16, 2015, a U.S. educator was seriously injured while driving her own vehicle in Karachi after being shot by two gunmen on motorbikes. Evidence obtained by local police suggests that she was targeted, in part, because she is a U.S. citizen.
Suicide bomb attacks have occurred in major cities and other locations across the country, including universities, schools, rallies, places of worship, and major marketplaces in several Pakistani cities.
Sectarian violence occurs countrywide. On May 13, 2015, gunmen attacked a bus traveling in Karachi, killing more than 40 of the passengers. Most of the victims were members of the Ismaili Shia Muslim minority community. Members of minority communities have been victims of targeted killings and accusations of blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty in Pakistan. Places of worship of various faiths have frequently been targeted for attack by terrorists. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from attending services at places of worship in Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar, and outside of the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad without prior approval. Foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, on valid missionary visas have encountered increased scrutiny from local authorities since early 2011.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS FOR GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL
U.S. government personnel travel within Pakistan is often restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles. Embassy staff are permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.
U.S. personnel in Pakistan who are under Chief of Mission (COM) authority are instructed to vary travel routes and timing, even for routine trips. They are also instructed to minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations, as well as to minimize the number of U.S. personnel congregating in any one location at any one time. Personnel and visitors under COM authority are not allowed to use public transportation in Pakistan and are not authorized to stay overnight in hotels in Pakistan. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places public areas such as hotels, markets, restaurants, and Pakistan government offices off-limits to official personnel.
Access to many areas of Pakistan, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, 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
The Mission reiterates its advice to all U.S. citizens to maintain good situational awareness, avoid large crowds, and keep a low profile, particularly when visiting locations frequented by Westerners. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly urged to avoid hotels that do not apply stringent security measures, and to vary times and routes for all travel.
U.S. citizens in Pakistan have also been kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons such as family disputes over property. In May 2015, a U.S. citizen was released after being kidnapped in a residential area of Karachi in February. The Mission is aware of other U.S. citizens who have been kidnapped, some released and some still being held. U.S. citizens have also been abducted by terrorists, or abducted by criminal elements and then sold to terrorists, and held hostage for multiple years. The kidnapping of Pakistani citizens and other foreign nationals, usually for ransom, continues to increase nationwide. U.S. citizens who feel they are in danger, or whose security is at risk, are strongly urged to depart Pakistan as soon as possible.
The U.S. Consulate in Karachi frequently receives reports from U.S. citizens who have been the victims of robberies at gunpoint. Many calls involve robberies during transit between Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport and the city. Some of the calls allege involvement by law enforcement.
U.S. citizens seeking services from the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi might also encounter harassment from host government officials. Citing security concerns, host-government intelligence officials frequently stop U.S. citizens outside the Consulate and obtain their personal information before allowing them to proceed. U.S. citizens might later be visited at their homes or offices and questioned about the nature of their business in Pakistan and the purpose of their visit to the Consulate.
U.S. citizens should ensure that their travel documents and visas are valid before travelling to Pakistan and at all times while in Pakistan. All U.S. citizens regardless of age must have a valid passport and visa for Pakistan, unless they have a Pakistani passport or National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP). U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan have been fined, arrested, deported, harassed, and detained for overstaying their Pakistani visas or for traveling to Pakistan without the appropriate 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. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General can provide very limited assistance to U.S. citizens who have overstayed their Pakistani visas. Since 2011, the number of U.S. citizens arrested, detained, and prosecuted for visa overstays has increased across the country.
U.S. citizens in Pakistan are responsible for monitoring their visa restrictions and abiding by the terms of their visas to ensure they are in compliance with Pakistani immigration regulations. U.S. citizens occasionally notify the Embassy that they are unable to depart the country because their names have been added to the Exit Control List (ECL). The U.S. Embassy is unable to assist in such cases, which must be resolved through Pakistani legal channels.
Security threats might, on short notice, temporarily restrict the ability of the U.S. Missions 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 Consulate General in Karachi. This enrollment can be completed online through the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) available on the Department of State 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.
For further information:
Contact the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, located at Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5, Islamabad, Pakistan, or by email at [email protected]. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance should call (92)(51) 208-0000.
Contact the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, 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.
Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).