Iraq redux? Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy

By Saeed Shah and Warren P. Strobel     | McClatchy Newspapers

ISLAMABAD — The U.S. is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, U.S. officials said Wednesday. 

The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.

The scale of the projects rivals the giant U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.

Senior State Department officials said the expanded diplomatic presence is needed to replace overcrowded, dilapidated and unsafe facilities and to support a “surge” of civilian officials into Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Other major projects are planned for Kabul, Afghanistan; and for the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Peshawar. In Peshawar, the U.S. government is negotiating the purchase of a five-star hotel that would house a new U.S. consulate.

Funds for the projects are included in a 2009 supplemental spending bill that the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed in slightly different forms.

Obama has repeatedly stated that stabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan, the countries from which al Qaida and the Taliban operate, is vital to U.S. national security. He’s ordered thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan and is proposing substantially increased aid to both countries.

In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the U.S. presence in the region — despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 — and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American “imperial designs.”

“This is a replay of Baghdad,” said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country’s two main religious political parties. “This (Islamabad embassy) is more (space) than they should need. It’s for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia.”

In Baghdad and other dangerous locales, U.S. diplomats have sometimes found themselves cut off from the population in heavily fortified compounds surrounded by blast walls, concertina wire and armed guards.

“If you’re going to have people live in a car bomb-prone place, your are driven to not have a light footprint,” said Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Neumann called the planned expansions “generally pretty justified.”

In Islamabad, according to State Department budget documents, the plan calls for the rapid construction of a $111 million new office annex to accommodate 330 workers; $197 million to build 156 permanent and 80 temporary housing units; and a $405 million replacement of the main embassy building. The existing embassy, in the capital’s leafy diplomatic enclave, was badly damaged in a 1979 assault by Pakistani students.

The U.S. government also plans to revamp its consular buildings in the eastern city of Lahore and in Peshawar, the regional capital of the militancy plagued North West Frontier Province. The consulate in the southern megacity of Karachi has just been relocated into a new purpose-built accommodation.

A senior State Department official confirmed that the U.S. plan for the consulate in Peshawar involves the purchase of the luxury Pearl Continental hotel. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The Pearl Contintental is the city’s only five-star hotel, set in its own expansive grounds, with a swimming pool. It’s owned by Pakistani tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani.

Peshawar is an important station for gathering intelligence on the tribal area that surrounds the city on three sides and is a base for al Qaida and the Taliban. The area also will be a focus for expanded U.S. aid programs, and the American mission in Peshawar has already expanded from three U.S. diplomats to several dozen.

In all, the administration requested $806 million for diplomatic construction and security in Pakistan.

“For the strong commitment the U.S. is making in the country of Pakistan, we need the necessary platform to fulfill our diplomatic mission,” said Jonathan Blyth of the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations bureau. “The embassy is in need of upgrading and expansion to meet our future mission requirements.”

A senior Pakistani official said the expansion has been under discussion for three years. “Pakistanis understand the need for having diplomatic missions expanding and the Americans always have had an enclave in Islamabad,” said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “Will some people exploit it? They will.”

In Kabul, the U.S. government is negotiating an $87 million purchase of a 30- to 40-acre parcel of land to expand the embassy. The Senate version of the appropriations bill omits all but $10 million of those funds.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article.)


Filed under Pakistan, USA

5 responses to “Iraq redux? Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy

  1. Gorki

    For a nation that still has living citizens who have memories of once having lived under a foreign rule, a sense of alarm is but inevitable when such robust interest is shown in it by a western superpower. Yet Pakistanis have to understand that today’s world is lot different from the heydays of colonialism.
    USA is in Pakistan and Afghanistan primarily because it feels its own security is at stake and an unstable Pakistan with weak institutions is a threat to others. It will have less of a reason or the justification to stay on uninvited if Pakistan becomes a nation of laws based on universal principles and strong institutions; a peaceful nation; both inside and on its borders.
    In the 21st century the best guarantor for complete independence from a foreign rule or interference is to build ones own institutions and provide an open, equitable, prosperous and a peaceful environment within the country. Thus the sooner that Pakistanis of all persuasions can unite to fight the militant threat within its borders and develop a tension free atmosphere with its neighbors, the sooner it can be free of the fears of foreign interference.

    That is the essence of a ‘strategic depth’ in the modern sense.

  2. asaaki

    Are you mad? Are you barking mad? “Yet Pakistanis have to understand that today’s world is lot different from the heydays of colonialism.”

    How different is the tyranny and imperialism of the US-UK today from yesterday’s colonialism? Oh and what happened in Iraq? They shouldn’t have worried either right, they should have let in the US with open arms, jumped into their current Hell of their own accord, right? Wouldn’t make a difference I guess, because WMDs or not, the US was going to BE there.

    In Pakistan, whether it’s opium or “national security” or “stability”, the US is planning to BE here. NO, they WILL NOT go if we become a land of peace and unity. WHEN and WHERE in history has the US *EVER* left a nation it butted into?? Until that country was destroyed and exhausted? On the contrary, be it “WMDs”, or “TALIBAN” or “AL-QAIDA” or “DEMOCRACY”, NOTHING that the unwilling host can do to KICK the @$$ of the US out of their country can actually get rid of their self-assigned superiority.

    The “militants” that so need to be gotten rid of are not worth the ENTIRE nation becoming displaced, as is clearly happening. And what’s interesting is how these militants randomly popped up seemingly to swallow the whole country around two years ago, when just before this they’d been minding their own business for decades or too busy fighting the US in Afghanistan to care or to have the resources. I wonder how it really happened, but do you? I doubt it, since you have the NEWS at your service. The NEWS, to tell you everything you want to know. The NEWSPAPERS and the MEDIA, that happen to be merely BUSINESS, that get contracts and get PAID to tell the people what needs to be told by the demons who have the money to afford it.

    I think you need to go get a brain wash, Gori. And this time, with the TRUTH.

  3. Gorki

    Mr. Asaaki; I am sorry that my post seems to have hit a raw nerve. Perhaps I sounded condescending. That was not my intention. I do however stand by my analysis.

    You ask some relevant questions: How is imperialism of the US-UK today from different from yesterday’s colonialism?

    It is and it isn’t. The colonialism of the past was a naked grab for power, wealth raw material, resources, captive markets, and perhaps flocks of people to be converted. There was also a strong undercurrent of racism towards the native populations. The relationships between the rulers and the ruled were pretty much the same all over the globe. Today the racism is largely missing. The US and the west still seek to dominate yet there goals are more specific depending on the regions involved. Thus in Germany and Japan the US goal was to establish western democracies as a bulwark against communism. In the middle East it is to prop up its ally; Israel on one hand and to maintain an uninterrupted supply of oil for its economy on the other.
    It is not above acting as a hegemon as in most of S. America as it did till recently yet nowhere is this power exercised nakedly as in the colonial era. It has also been a fair trading partner with most of these nations (consider the Japanese domination of the US auto market) till recently.
    In such a scenario, once the Soviets were beaten, there was little in Afghanistan and Pakistan that interested the US. In fact last week I saw president Musharraf on a US program accusing the US of having abandoned Pakistan-Afghanistan after the cold war.
    After 9/11 all that changed. For one, the masterminds of 9/11 were living openly in Afghanistan. For another, Pakistan and Afghanistan harbored independent ‘non state actors’ who were not subject to any international law and swore to wage war on the US and other countries.
    These groups had not “been minding their own business” as you wrote but were actively subverting foreign regimes from safe sanctuaries. (The hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane and murderers of Daniel Pearl are two obvious examples).
    After 9/11 the US swore zero tolerance for all such groups. Thus once the Taliban government refused to hand over OBL (against the sound advice of General Musharraf) it was inevitable that US would come calling. It had no choice.

    The long term goal of the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan still remains very modest;
    1. To keep friendly governments in place
    2. To deny sanctuaries to terrorist groups.
    It does not covet any resources, it is not making any money here, on the contrary it is spending several billion dollars a month on these operations.

    Your next question, what happened in Iraq?

    Iraq was different. It was a stupid combination of miscalculations and hubris. After an apparent easy victory in the Afghan war the ideologically driven pro Israel lobby and the neo-cons in the right wing government over reached. The WMD issue was a sham. The Israelis were pissed that Saddam supported the Palestinian cause with actual money and material (which no other Arab government dared to do) The Iraqis were sitting on a sizeable portion of known oil reserves and the Iraqi exiles spun fantastic stories to hoodwink the CIA.
    No such conditions exist in Pakistan scenario. Thus I reiterate that once the US is certain that Pakistan is a stable part of the World that is free of terrorist, it will loose interest and leave it alone.

    Is this moral and fair that any one nation wields this degree of control over others? Heck no. Yet morality and scruples were never an impediment in the pursuit of national goals in the affairs on men.
    When someone supposedly told Stalin that the pope may not like his actions in Eastern Europe he is supposed to have responded with some thing like “Oh yeah, so how many divisions does the pope have?”
    You get the idea.

  4. asaaki

    Nice of you to answer politely after my clearly over-the-top response, aimed not particularly at you but in general at everyone whose line of thought you represent. I apologize for the rudeness. I do get exasperated beyond words at people who seem to me to be forever explaining away ground realities by what looks like nothing more than pseudo-sophisticated fluff. I also find it cruel and unnerving to note that these same people who cried themselves hoarse at the terror antics of the “Taliban” (no doubt outrageously evil) are now almost completely silent at the sight of the suffering of millions of IDPs and their strained hosts. Whatever they may say about it, their silence implies that they almost feel the suffering of millions is worth it. This country is made up of its *people*. And suddenly, in order to get rid of a few “Taliban”, the *people* don’t matter. We need to use our minds a little more but all we ever do is rush into whatever is comfortable to believe in.

    Thank you for your detailed explanation. Yes, I do get the idea very well. And while I hope with all my heart that you’re right, I also wonder what you might say if/when it comes to light (and it already has in many ways) that the whole “eradicating terrorists” deal is also a sham.

  5. Gorki

    Mr. Asaaki:

    No offense taken.
    Your words of anger in fact convey your anguish which would be but natural when ones innocent countrymen are being killed by forces beyond one’s control. As you mentioned, the Taliban are no friends of Pakistan, having brought the misery of this supposedly ‘global war on terror’ on Pakistan’s doorsteps.

    The sad irony of the fate of the people of FATA and other western regions is not lost on many people around the world who understand that these people run the risk of both kind of death; either becoming a target of the US drones or the suicide bombers who claim to fight against the US.

    Isn’t it incredible that a nation of 170 million people; a nuclear power, finds itself in a situation that it can not protect its own people from either of those two? The reason lies with the sad plight of Pakistani government and its institutions (or lack there of).

    The sooner Pakistan stands up and builds its national institutions the better since once it has the mechanism in place to rein in the so called ‘non state actors’ from enticing its youth into their ranks and in effect running an independent foreign policy; it can actually demand others; even the US to take its fight and its troubles elsewhere.

    Once Pakistan builds its national civil institutions; an education system, a health care system, a free judiciary a free press, its people can break free of the dependence on these pseudo-religious organizations and their madrassas on one hand and its leaders can confidently refuse the foreign carrots and pressures on the other hand.