U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, $1 Billion new construction, adding 350 Marines + Staff

ISLAMABAD: The US plans to have a bigger presence in Pakistan in the pursuit of its strategic interests in the region have raised several eyebrows in Islamabad.

The two most obvious indications of US intentions are the upcoming large-scale staff surge at the Islamabad embassy, which includes hundreds of marines, and the massive expansion work at the embassy premises.

The Americans intend to spend about $1 billion for the upgradation of their Islamabad presence, including an expenditure of $405 million for the reconstruction and refurbishment of the main embassy building; $111 million for a new complex for accommodating 330 personnel; and $197 million for constructing about 250 housing units.

For this purpose the American embassy has acquired about 18 acres of land for a meagre Rs1 billion, courtesy of the Capital Development Authority. The CDA had recently, in another transaction, sold just six acres of land for Rs6 billion. A Turkish firm has already built a 153-room compound for the embassy.

The upcoming fortress-like embassy is meant for accommodating close to 1,000 additional personnel being sent to Islamabad as part of the US administration’s decision to increase its staff in Pakistan. The new staffers would augment the 750-strong American contingent already based in Pakistan against a sanctioned strength of 350.

What appears to be more alarming is that this staff surge would include 350 marines.

Additionally, the Americans are pressuring Islamabad to allow the import of hundreds of Dyncorp Armoured Personnel Carriers.

Jonathan Blyth, director of external affairs at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations in Washington, in a media statement justified plans for the greater footprint in Pakistan, saying they were necessary for meeting future requirements in view of the ‘greater commitment shown by the Obama administration towards Pakistan’.

Deputy Chief of US Mission in Islamabad Gerald Feierstein told Dawn that upcoming large-scale programmes needed more staff, but quickly added that nothing was final as yet. Others in Washington are justifying the expansion of the embassy on security grounds.

Despite all these explanations, the situation remains puzzling and is definitely straining relations between the US State Department and the Foreign Office in Islamabad.

Are these arrangements being made just to cater for the enhanced security needs of the American embassy and their diplomats based here, or are they aimed at micromanaging Pakistan? This is just one question nagging Pakistani officials as they warily scan the developments and insist that there is something more than what meets the eye.

Some of these reservations were expressed by former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan. He told Dawn recently that indications were very clear that America wanted to ‘remote-control’ the region from Islamabad.

‘The US is eying a long-term presence in the region to protect its interests and Islamabad is an ideal place for that purpose technologically, diplomatically and personnel-wise.’

Another former diplomat said he saw no justification for such a huge US presence in Islamabad. ‘Clearly these are people who would be coming under cover of diplomatic assignments for covert operations that would be detrimental for Pakistan’s security interests.’ http://tinyurl.com/lcmmhn  www.dawn.com original reporting.

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