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US diplomats in Pakistan facing harassment: State Department



14WASHINGTON: US diplomats working in Pakistan face increasing harassment amid a sharp deterioration in ties in the wake of last year’s killing of Osama bin Laden, a State Department report said Thursday.

Such harassment and obstruction is described by US embassy staff as “deliberate, willful and systematic,” according to the 76-report by the department’s watchdog, the office of inspector general.

“Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementations,” the report said.

Harassment included such things as delaying visas for staff, blocking shipments of materials for aid programs and construction work, and surveillance of staff and contractors.

The official report, made available Thursday, comes after a February fact-finding tour of the US diplomatic missions in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore.

It urged US officials to ensure that the issue of harassment is raised in bilateral talks with the Pakistani government.

Although it was marked “sensitive but unclassified,” sections giving greater detail about the conditions faced by US embassy staff were blacked out along with several recommendations made by the watchdog.

The US commando raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 had been a “double embarrassment” highlighting both the government’s “incompetence” and “its inability to detect or defend against a military intervention.”

Confidence between the United States and Pakistan was further shaken by the attack on the US embassy in Kabul in September, as well as a Nato attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

“The impact of these events has been felt across the full spectrum of the bilateral relationship,” the report said.

“The expectation is that the future relationship will be less ambitious, more pragmatic,” it said, adding that the embassy also “struggles with the challenge of programming more than $2 billion in annual funding for development and security assistance programs.”

The report makes 32 formal recommendations for improving the security and working conditions of the embassy staff, including updating its policy on the use of armored vehicles.

Washington-based officials, however, were also criticized for being too intrusive at times amid the intense interest and US commitment in what is happening on the ground in both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

“One of the embassy’s greatest challenges is managing Washington’s intense and at times intrusive involvement and voracious appetite for information,” the report said.

From the time of the November border incident to the February review, embassy officials had taken part in 40 video conferences with senior people in Washington, some of them chaired by President Barack Obama.

The report recommended that the number of video conferences between Washington and Islamabad be rationalized.

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