Travel Warning – Pakistan

Published by December 16, 2011

United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520

August 08, 2011

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The State Department warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Pakistan. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Pakistan dated February 2, 2011, to update information on security incidents and remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Pakistan.

The presence of al-Qaida, Taliban elements, and indigenous militant sectarian groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Terrorists and their sympathizers regularly attack civilian, government, and foreign targets, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The Government of Pakistan has 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, or outdoor recreation events. Terrorists have disguised themselves as Pakistani security personnel to gain access to targeted areas. Some media reports have recently falsely identified U.S. diplomats – and to a lesser extent U.S. and other Western journalists and workers for non-governmental organizations (NGOs)– 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), and suicide vests or 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.

U.S. citizens have been victims of attacks in the last few years. 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 October 2009 attack on the World Food Program headquarters resulted in serious injury of a U.S. citizen. On November 12, 2008, a U.S. citizen contractor and his driver in Peshawar were shot and killed in their car. In September 2008, over 50 people, including three U.S. citizens, were killed and hundreds injured when a suicide bomber set off a truck filled with explosives outside a major international hotel in Islamabad. In August 2008, gunmen stopped and shot at the vehicle of a U.S. diplomat in Peshawar. In March 2008, a restaurant frequented by Westerners in Islamabad was bombed, killing a patron and seriously injuring several others, including four U.S. diplomats. On March 2, 2006, a U.S. diplomat, a Consulate General employee, and three others were killed and 52 people wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives alongside the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi.

Visits by U.S. government personnel to Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore are limited, and movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General in those cities are severely restricted. U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to restrict 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. Embassy 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.

The Governor of the Punjab province and the federal Minister for Minority Affairs were assassinated in Islamabad in January and March 2011, respectively. There have been targeted attacks on a provincial minister in Balochistan, university faculty in Swat, and an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar. Suicide bomb attacks have occurred at Islamabad University, schools, rallies, places of worship, and major marketplaces in Lahore and Peshawar.

Reports of religious intolerance rose in 2010-2011. Members of minority communities, including a U.S. citizen, were victims of targeted killings. Accusations of blasphemy—a crime that carries the death penalty in Pakistan—against Muslims as well as non-Muslims also increased. 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 do not operate with the level of professionalism that U.S. citizens may be accustomed to in the United States.

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.

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; 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.

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 Embassy 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 Embassy 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.

Security threats may on short notice temporarily restrict the ability of 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 at 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.