Econintersect: It only lasted a few hours but Monday, 4 June 2012, the Pakistani military arrested four U.S. diplomats and detained them for several hours. The charges included unauthorized travel and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. The arrests occurred at a “routine check of suspicious looking vehicles at a toll plaza on the outskirts of Peshawar. The detention was at the Chamkani police station. After several hours of negotiation between SP Shafeeullah Khan and U.S. Consul General in Peshawar Marie Richard the four Americans were released. (Note: After researching several news reports of the incident Econintersect found no specifation of SP – we assume it stands for Special Prosecutor.) Three Pakistani employees of the U.S. embassy were also arrested.
A statement was issued by SP Shafeeullah Khan after the Americans were released. From The Express Tribune:
SP Shafeeullah Khan said that the documents of the diplomats were valid and except for the “illegal weapons in possession of the Pakistani employees of the consulate,” no other discrepancy was found.
“We have registered an FIR against all three local employees for possessing illegal weapons, while the diplomats have been released and their vehicles returned to them,” Khan said.
An FIR is a “First Information Report” similar to what would be called a police report in the U.S. It is a document that is prepared by the police that contains the specifics of any complaint regarding an alleged offense. (Wikipedia)
The news reports disagreed about the facts concerning the weapons. Reuters had this:
A senior police official said the Americans were stopped as they were en route to Peshawar, having attended a meeting in the town of Malakand with the vice chancellor of a local university.
The official said police had confiscated five M4 carbines and four 9mm pistols, along with 20 magazines of ammunition.
The Jakarta post said this:
Six people, including three US nationals, were detained on Monday in northwest Pakistan after police discovered a large cache of illegal arms from their vehicles.
According to police sources, the “suspicious cars” were stopped for a routine check at the Peshawar Motorway toll plaza when the weapons were discovered.
Police sources told Dawn.com that the weapons included 4 M4 assault rifles with 36 magazines and 4 pistols with 30 magazines.
The purpose of the travel to Malakand has been the subject of speculative debate. The Reuters specification (above excerpt) of a visit to the vice chancellor of a remote university has given rise to some skepticism. A statement has been issued by a Marcia Anglerill and posted on the emptywheel blog (one of the skeptical sites):
I am the Public Affairs Officer at US Consulate General in Peshawar and I can tell you exactly what the “mission” was. It was to organize an inauguration ceremony for an English language program at Malakand University. This program gives scholarships to economically underprivileged students to participate in a 2-year intensive after school program to improve their English skills, thereby giving them a better chance to pursue higher education and secure a better job in the future. The Americans who traveled to Malakand went there as part of a security advance, as is standard procedure. They had the proper documents and permission from the Pakistan Ministry of Affairs to travel there, despite what the local media is reporting and now blogs such as yours.
Reuters was quoted in The Jakarta Post to the same effect:
Reuters news agency reported a US embassy official as saying: “These officials were returning from a visit to Malakand University where they were preparing for an English education event for underprivileged children. They had all proper permissions but were stopped when returning to Peshawar.”
Scott Stewart at Stratfor offers some explanation of what was happening. First, the area is very hostile to Americans. Peshawar is the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, adjacent to tribal lands and near the Afghanistan border. It is an area that has been associated with numerous jihadist activities. Small arms and explosive device attacks on the U.S. Consul General in 2008, a Peshawar hotel housing foreign diplomats and UN personnel in 2009, the U.S. Consulate building in 2010 and a U.S. diplomatic motorcade in 2011 have made travel there of great security concern. In 2008 the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Peshawar, Stephen Vance, was assassinated while traveling in the area. Stewart says that it is common practice for U.S. diplomatic personnel to travel in armored vehicles with fake license plates. It also does not seem imprudent to carry small arms when traveling several hours into a remote area of the province.
The present situation recalls the case of another American, Raymond Davis, a U.S. embassy contract security officer who shot and killed two men (January 2011) in what he claimed was an attempt to rob him. This case was cited by Stewart, as was the November 2011 U.S. airstrike along the Pakistan border with Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a military post.
Stewart also raises the question of how much advance planning went into the supposedly random security check: A Pakistani television crew was present at the checkpoint and filmed the entire incident. June 4 marked the 14th day since a dramatic increase in U.S. air strikes started in Pakistan. Air strikes had been cut back after the 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed six months earlier.
- Unauthorized travel: US diplomats detained, quizzed, released – all in a few hours (Riaz Ahmad, The Express Tribune, 7 June 2012)
- U.S. targets senior Al Qaeda leader, further starins Pakistan ties (Mark Hosenball and Michael Georgy, Reuters, 4 June 2012)
- Three US ‘diplomats’ detained in Pakistan for illegally carrying weapons (Zahir Shirazi Dawn, Asia News Network, The Jakarta Post, 5 June 2012)
- Tensions and Operational Challenges in Pakistan (Scott Stewart, Strafor, 7 June 2012)