Pakistan: After terror threat, US consulate in Lahore closes

A specific threat prompted a move of US personnel to Islamabad. The Pakistani government is also on high alert.

Mohsin Raza/Reuters
Private security guards stand at the entrance of a road leading towards the US consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, today. The US government ordered the evacuation of non-essential staff from its consulate in the northeastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday due to the threat of attack.

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The State Department closed the US consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, today and moved all non-essential personnel to the embassy in Islamabad because of a specific threat to the consulate amid a spate of extremist attacks against Pakistani targets across the country.

“We received information regarding a threat to the consulate,” US Embassy spokeswoman Meghan Gregonis said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “As a precautionary measure, we are undertaking a drawdown of all but essential personnel in Lahore."

The consulate was already closed yesterday through Sunday for Eid al-Fitr, a festive holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But the consulate will not reopen on Monday and there is no date set for it to reopen, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The move was unrelated to the closure of 19 US diplomatic posts throughout the Middle East and Africa in the last week. The US has also issued a travel alert for the country, saying that various groups in Pakistan posed a threat to American citizens there.

US diplomatic posts in Pakistan have been targeted before, the Los Angeles Times notes, most recently the consulate in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan. A car bomb and grenade attack killed four Pakistanis there in 2010.

The Pakistani government is also on high alert after receiving intelligence that militants had plans to attack key locations in the city, such as the airport and parliament building, according to the Times.

According to Pakistani newspaper Dawn, a major suicide bombing in an Islamabad mosque was thwarted today when the bomber was gunned down before he could enter the mosque and detonate his vest of explosives.

The Wall Street Journal notes that there has been a "wave of extremist violence" in Pakistan. Many of the local groups are linked to Al Qaeda and oppose the Pakistani government's alliance with the US, but the "vast majority" of their victims are fellow Pakistanis, not Americans. 

On Friday, gunmen opened fire on worshipers leaving a mosque in the western city of Quetta, killing 10 people who had come to offer prayers for the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. Police said the intended target appeared to be a politician present at the site, who escaped unhurt.

Pakistani militants unleashed a vicious wave of killings during Ramadan, as the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif struggled to get a grip on the security situation. Mr. Sharif, who took office in early June, vowed Thursday to show the militants an "iron fist," as his government announced that its counterterrorism policy would be ready next week.

On Thursday in Quetta, a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a police officer killed by militants. The bombing killed at least 30 people, including 21 police personnel. Some of the city's most senior police officers perished in the attack.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack in Quetta, saying it was revenge for a police raid on an allied group.

The violence has "rattled" Mr. Sharif's government, reports The New York Times. The prime minister ordered his interior minister to visit Quetta and pushed him to present the national counterterrorism strategy soon.

Critics say the lack of such a strategy has resulted in confusion and lack of consensus about how to deal with the terrorists.

Opposition politicians urged the government to immediately convene a national conference of all political parties to come to a policy consensus. “The delay is causing more acts of terrorism,” said Syed Khurshid Shah, an opposition lawmaker belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party.

“The government cannot leave the country to be a playing-field of terrorists. We will be handling them with an iron fist,” Mr. Sharif said, according to the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune.

The latest wave of violence has caused some Pakistanis to despair, particularly amid the backdrop of the holy month of Ramadan, as articulated in an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper the Nation titled "A difficult Eid": 

With Eid is meant to come new hope and the appreciation of a common bond of brotherhood, compassion and empathy between our people. But sadly, in our society these attributes of the faithful are being increasingly taken over by a creed of hate, intolerance and vengefulness that too many Pakistanis have been victims of in ways too horrible and gory to be put in words.

Pakistan’s misery is arguably self-inflicted, courtesy home-grown fanatical segments, who government and law-enforcement agencies have done little to crush. This indulgence, inspired initially by financial assistance received from several friendly nations, has resulted in the cultivation of a terror that is now pervading quite successfully across Pakistan. The government remains absent, even now, when it is essential that it step up to the task of initiating military crackdown on terrorists in FATA, havens of sectarian hatred in South Punjab, and criminal elements in Karachi.

While the people protest, the government seeks to build a consensus, when in fact it's mandate ought to be enough for it to act decisively. … Meanwhile, we can only watch and pray that one day our society will be taught tolerance with just as much vim and vigour as hate was preached.

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