Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 24, 2015. The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, 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 the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remains temporarily closed for public services.
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets. Attacks have included armed assaults on heavily guarded sites, 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 against the United States are not uncommon and have the potential to turn violent. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid all protests and large gatherings.
There have been many terrorist attacks in recent years targeting civilians and security personnel. On December 16, 2014, armed militants wearing paramilitary uniforms and suicide vests attacked an Army-run school in Peshawar, killing at least 140, mostly children. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. On November 2, a suicide bomber killed at least 60 people at the Wagah border crossing with India. Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahraar claimed responsibility. On September 6, Pakistani naval security thwarted a terrorist attack on Karachi Naval Dockyard. One sailor and two attackers died in a firefight, while security forces captured four attackers. The terrorists reportedly planned to hijack a naval frigate.
On June 24, 2014, gunmen fired on an international flight during landing at Peshawar’s International Airport, killing one passenger and injuring two flight attendants. On June 8, a terrorist attack over the course of nearly two days on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport killed 19 people. On June 4, a suicide bomber attacked an Army vehicle at a railway crossing in Feteh Jang, some 15 miles from Islamabad, killing five persons, including two lieutenant colonels. On May 25, armed men attacked a check-post along the Quetta-Karachi Highway in Wadh tehsil of Khuzdar District, Balochistan, killing at least eight Balochistan Levies officials and injuring three others.
On May 25, 2014, a bomb attack on a security convoy in the Pandiyali tehsil of Mohmand Agency killed six security personnel and injured three others. On April 9, a bomb detonated at a fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad, killing 24 people and injuring 116. On March 3, a bomb and firearm attack on a courthouse in Islamabad killed 11 people. On February 13, a suicide bomber targeted a bus of police officers, killing at least 13 and injuring 58 others near Razzakabad Police Training Center in Shah Latif Town, Karachi. On January 21, a bomb attack on a bus of Hazara pilgrims killed at least 24 and injured 40 others in Mastung District, Balochistan.
In 2013, there were 355 distinct terror incidents throughout Pakistan.
Targeted killings continue unabated in Karachi as a result of ethno-political and criminal rivalries. Targeted attacks against government officials, humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, tribal elders, and law enforcement personnel continue throughout the country, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces. Suicide bomb attacks have occurred at Islamabad universities, schools, rallies, places of worship, and major marketplaces in Lahore and Peshawar.
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 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 is permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.
U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel. U.S. officials are not authorized to use public transportation.
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
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. Anti-U.S. protests in September 2012 attracted large crowds outside U.S. diplomatic facilities in all major cities and caused casualties and significant property damage. 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.
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.
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 throughout Pakistan have also been kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons such as family disputes over property. In December 2013, a U.S. citizen was released after being kidnapped for two months from his neighborhood outside of Peshawar. In May 2013, a U.S. citizen was rescued by local police after being kidnapped for ransom. 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.
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. U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan have been 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 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.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5, and can be reached by telephone at (92-51) 208-0000; Consular Section telephone (92-51) 208-2700; and fax (92-51) 282-2632.
You may make an American Citizens Services appointment with the Consular Section in Islamabad through the following link: http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/service/appointmemts.html.
U.S. citizens requiring emergency services should contact the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad at telephone (92-51) 208-0000. Note that our ability to provide emergency services outside Islamabad could be limited by travel restrictions and security conditions.
The U.S. Consulate General in Karachi is 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.
You may make an American Citizens Services appointment with the Consular Section in Karachi through the following link http://karachi.usconsulate.gov/service.html.
Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
For further information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Pakistan. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.