S. M. Hali
Under the garb of expanding its embassy premises, according to media reports, the US Diplomatic Mission in Islamabad has raised the hackles of the city’s fathers by raising the elevation of its complex. The minders of Pakistan’s security have observed that using the height of its diplomatic building, the US will be able to keep an eye on all important buildings in its vicinity in the federal capital. These include the Presidency, The Prime Minister’s Secretariat and Residence, the Houses of Parliament and even the headquarters of Pakistan’s premier security agency, the Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The concerned quarters have reportedly raised the matter with the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to ask the US Diplomatic Mission in Islamabad to limit the elevation of the US Embassy complex to four storeys instead of seven. Although a vigilant watch is being maintained over Islamabad by interested quarters through satellite and other aerial platforms but a permanent view from the rooftop of the new US embassy complex would be more ominous and round the clock.
The US diplomatic mission at Islamabad had the design plans and blueprint of its proposed construction approved on January 16 of this year by a committee comprising CDA officials, representatives of the Planning Emergency and Disaster Management and members nominated by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners. The surprising aspect is that the committee concerned itself with the architectural and structural aspects of the project, appreciating the energy efficient design with the facilities of rain-water harvesting and sewage treatment plant, but failed to see through the ploy of placing a virtual Trojan horse in the midst of the metropolis. The matter gains ominous proportions because the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) has recently undergone the exercise of reviewing the terms of engagement with the US following the attack by US forces on Pakistan’s military check-post at Salala on November 26 last year in which 25 Pakistani soldiers were killed in cold blood. The PCNS has recommended that that the US should review its footprints in Pakistan and there should be prior-permission and transparency on the number and presence of foreign intelligence operatives in Pakistan. If there is credence in Ahmed Rashid’s latest book, ‘Pakistan on the Brink’ that President Obama had approved a plan by Leon Panetta to create a Pakistan-specific CIA hidden from the eyes of ISI, then the situation is grave.
According to the Washington Post, the US Diplomatic Mission in Islamabad already houses the largest CIA contingent in the world, and now it is being expanded without approval of Pakistan’s foreign ministry or input from the intelligence agencies. The Raymond Davis fiasco last year and the Osama Bin Laden episode have already dealt a severe blow to US credibility in Pakistan and have raised serious concerns regarding the abuse of Pakistani hospitality by its US “friends”.
The plot thickens further, where on the one hand the US is withdrawing its troops from war-ravaged Afghanistan but on the other, it is furtively expanding its presence in Pakistan. Enhanced drone strikes and the massive footprint of US military presence in Islamabad, spell danger for Pakistan’s sovereignty. According to an entry ‘US overtures and Pakistan’s stand’, placed on the website “Opinion Maker”, a senior Pakistani official is mentioned quoting a reasonably reliable source that “there are about 15,000 marines in the Capital.” If true, this is a very perilous development since the massive figure of 15,000 is tantamount to division strength and would prove to be detrimental to Pakistan’s sovereignty.
If that were not enough, The Nation’s story of March 23, ‘US setting up for Pak sneak-in’ reveals that Americans have already acquired more than 400 houses in Islamabad, where their agents, contractors and Marines have been living. In some of these houses, according to sources, even ammunition is being kept. Americans are also trying to shift their consulate in Lahore to Johar Town, where they are desirous of purchasing a huge plot. However, the Foreign Office and intelligence agencies are not willing to allow the shifting of the consulate, presently located very close to the Governor’s House.
It is high time that the Foreign Office of Pakistan takes the bull by the horns and asserts itself that the building of the new US diplomatic Mission in Pakistan must be limited to four storeys and the CIA personnel and US Marines stationed in Pakistan must be only through the formal clearance of the Foreign Office and intelligence agencies. Pakistan’s sovereignty must be respected.