Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Due to on-going concerns about the possibility of terrorist activity directed against American citizens and interests, the Department of State continues to advise U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Pakistan. Family members of official Americans assigned to the Embassy in Islamabad and to the three consulates in Pakistan were ordered to leave the country in March 2002 and have not been allowed to return. U.S. Consulate Peshawar instituted a drawdown of non-essential personnel in November 2008.
Continued U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the perceived American assistance behind Pakistan's efforts to curb Islamic fundamentalism, have contributed to continued anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. Operations by the Pakistani military against insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistani border have resulted in a backlash of terrorist actions directed against President Asif Ali Zardari's government and its police force. As these operations continue, it is expected that reprisals will increase in kind. Continued reporting from an array of sources suggests numerous non-specific threats stemming from the Taliban, splinter cells of al-Qa’ida, and militants sympathetic to their cause.
Overall criminal activity in Islamabad increased this past calendar year. Islamabad is a city under development with a population of one and a half million, with a crime rate increasing as the city continues to grow in size and population. The neighboring city of Rawalpindi with its population over three million, has a higher rate of crime. There are occasional reports of residential break-ins from the American community-at-large. U.S. official personnel have on a few occasions reported that local individuals have made anti-American remarks, although these incidents have yet to turn violent. As the Pakistani economy continues to worsen and the shortage of energy, fuel, and food grows, it is anticipated that the rate of crime will increase across the country.
The roads in Islamabad and between major cities are paved and adequate. However, in outlying areas the roads may be unpaved. There have been vehicle accidents involving U.S. Consulate personnel. This is due to Americans' inexperience of driving on the left side of the road, poorly trained and unskilled local drivers, and local conditions such as pedestrians walking in the road without looking for oncoming traffic. Driving at night outside the city is not safe due to the large number of individuals, carts, and cattle that travel along the unlit roads.
There has been a history of political and terrorist violence in Pakistan in general over the past three decades, resulting in a large number of deaths and injuries. There have been several terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the past few years, with the number increasing substantially in 2008:
- In 2002, a suicide bomber attacked a Protestant International Church in Islamabad a quarter of a mile from the U.S. Embassy killing five people.
- In December 2007, former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, was killed during an attack in Rawalpindi sparking protests and riots across the country.
- In January 2008, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 26 (22 of whom were police officers) and injured 70 in Lahore.
- In February 2008, a motorcycle suicide bomber crashed into a Pakistani Armed Forces bus in Rawalpindi killing 11, injuring 45.
- In March 2008, a car bomb destroyed Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency’s building in Lahore, killing 25.
- In March 2008, a satchel bomb detonated at a restaurant in Islamabad killing 1 and injuring four U.S. Embassy personnel.
- In June 2008, a suicide car bomb detonated at the Danish Embassy.
- In July 2008, an explosion at the Melody Market in Islamabad killed 20 and injured 40.
- In August 2008, over 50 people were killed when two suicide bombers detonated themselves simultaneously at a Pakistan weapons ordnance factory in Wah, near Rawalpindi.
- In August 2008, the U.S. Principal Officer in Peshawar was the target of an organized gun attack.
- In September 2008, over 50 people were killed, including three U.S. Embassy employees, and over 250 were injured when a truck carrying over two thousand pounds of explosives was detonated outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
- In November 2008, an American working for a non-government organization was shot and killed in Peshawar.
All major western nations, including the U.S., have issued travel advisories recommending against nonessential travel to Pakistan. Pakistan experiences regional, international, and transnational terrorism threats and incidents from groups including the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.
The issue of spontaneous demonstrations is an ongoing concern. These demonstrations, while mostly peaceful, can turn violent with little or no warning. Extremist militants may also infiltrate the otherwise peaceful crowd of demonstrators. Recent major incidents in Islamabad include:
- During a series of protests in Islamabad over a Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed in February 2006, 250 demonstrators forced their way onto the diplomatic enclave and came within one kilometer of the U.S. Embassy. The demonstrators were stopped by police using tear gas.
- In August 2006, anti-U.S./Israel demonstrations occurred three to four times a week with crowds of up to 5,000 after Israeli launched a military operation into Lebanon.
- For much of 2008, demonstrators gathered frequently to protest the removal of several judges by then President Pervez Musharraf.
There are often demonstrations in Islamabad after prayers on Friday afternoons, particularly in the G-6 area by some of the local mosques and the Aabpara Market area. While these are normally peaceful, the police usually deploy out in large numbers to control the situation, as the potential for violence always exists.
Pakistan is subject to earthquakes in the north and west regions of the country. A severe earthquake occurred October 8, 2005, killing an estimated 87,000 people. While the earthquake in 2005 was felt throughout most of Pakistan, the northern frontier and Kashmir regions of Pakistan sustained the greatest damage and loss of life. Substantial aftershocks and landslides later occurred in these areas.
In October 2008, an earthquake occurred in the Balochistan Province resulting in substantial death and destruction. Additionally, the Indus River is prone to flooding after heavy rains especially during the monsoon season of July and August.
Industrial safety does not meet U.S. standards, and pollution from raw sewage and industrial waste in the water and air is widespread. Air pollution, exacerbated in the winter months, is at levels which may cause severe irritation and discomfort to individuals suffering from asthma or other respiratory disorders.
Embassy policy prohibits the use of public transportation and taxis by Embassy personnel for various reasons. Vehicle maintenance, lack of driver skills, and general lack of road safety awareness by operators are all of concern. Although there have been no incidences of kidnapping of Americans or Westerners in Islamabad, reporting from an array of sources has increased awareness of this threat. Members of the U.S. private sector should remain vigilant at all times.
The police services in Pakistan are below the professional standards of the U.S. due in part to a lack of training, resources, and low salaries. Police response times in Islamabad are usually within 15 minutes. The local police emergency numbers in Islamabad are 920-3333 or 15. If there is a language barrier, U.S. citizens can contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy via the main Embassy switchboard at 92-51-208-0000. U.S. citizens may also use this number if they are arrested or require assistance with the police.
The government of Pakistan has taken measures to curb the indigenous and transnational terrorist threat in Pakistan, including bans on Islamic fundamentalist literature and violent groups. Furthermore, the government of Pakistan has increased the security countermeasures and precautions taken for high-level Government officials, diplomats, and areas frequented by westerners.
Emergency medical care in Pakistan is only available in major cities. Most Pakistani hospitals possess limited advanced life support equipment and are not up to U.S. standards. Travelers should arrange for medical evacuation insurance personally or through their sponsoring agency prior to arriving in Pakistan. The following are the main hospitals used by Embassy personnel:
Shifa International Hospital
Sector H 8/4
Emergency Room: ext 3010/3090
Shifa International is a well-equipped, western-style hospital with 24-hour emergency room staffing located approximately 15 minutes from the U.S. Embassy. Many of the physicians have been trained in the United States or United Kingdom. Shifa International is a good resource for general medical problems, but is limited in pediatric care.
Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) – Adult Hospital
Sector G 8/3
Phone: 926-1170/1269; emergency extension: 2201/2
Hotline: 051-926-1268 (1269)
PIMS is the best resource for pediatric emergencies and disorders.
Medical Evacuations - Air ambulance information is offered only as a guide and is not a recommendation of one service over another. Travelers should research this service on their own.
AAA Air Ambulance Anywhere – U.S.
Phone - 727-934-3999
FAX - 727-937-0276
AEA International Alarm Centers – Singapore
Phone - 65-338-7800
FAX - 65-338-7611
- Avoid the appearance of carrying large sums of money and do not draw attention.
- Avoid high-risk areas, crowds, and civil disturbances.
- Vary routes and times: don’t be predictable.
- If being followed or threatened in any way, go immediately to a safe place such as a government building or a police point.
- Always maintain a low profile and avoid clothing that labels you as an American.
Driving safety tips
- Whether driving or riding as a passenger, use extreme caution and expect the unexpected: drive defensively.
- Expect others to ignore signs and intersection stops and always wear a seat belt.
Hotels and lodging
- Hotels are currently off-limits to official US government travelers.
- Maintain personal security at hotels and guest houses.
- Do not leave valuables in rooms.
- Fire fighting resources are severely lacking and it is advisable to stay on lower floors in a hotel.
Many Americans and other westerners employ private security guard services for their residences and offices. They are less trained than those in the U.S. and generally have low quality employees due to deficient wages, training, supervision, and equipment. What the contracting firm fails to supply in the way of equipment, the individual guard looks to the occupant to provide (i.e. heater, fan, water, and even supplemental income).
The major contract security guard services in Pakistan are SMS, Wackenhut, Phoenix Security Services, and Ashkari Guards.
For further information
Embassy contact information:
Embassy main switchboard: 011-92-51-208-0000
Regional Security Office - Islamabad: 011-92-51-208-2203
There is currently no formal OSAC Country Council in Islamabad, but the RSO briefs U.S. and allied private sector personnel when requested. The establishment of a Council for Islamabad is currently in the planning stages.