Saturday, July 10, 2010

Peshawar: the most dangerous US post anywhere is in de facto drawdown

Old City of PeshawarImage via Wikipedia
But no one is calling it officially a drawdown or an evacuation after 8 months ... and no change appears in sight....

State's OIG has released its most recent inspection report of the US Mission in Pakistan.  Below is what it says about the US Consulate General in Peshawar, a diplomatic post established in 1958 and elevated to a consulate general in February 2009. Peshawar is considered the most dangerous U.S. diplomatic post anywhere: 
In November 2008, the Peshawar emergency action committee, in consultation with Embassy Islamabad, decided to reduce the number of U.S. direct-hire employees in Peshawar due to the deteriorating security situation. At that time, some employees were relocated to Islamabad, where most served the remainder of their tours.

One of the employees from the group who relocated in 2008 is still at the embassy, and three others arrived in summer or early fall 2009 and never established themselves permanently in Peshawar. Of the displaced Foreign Service officers, some worked in Peshawar for several months, some for a few days, and some never were stationed there at all, making only intermittent trips for one or two days at a time.

During the inspection, the OIG team interviewed each of these employees. These employees expressed a range of concerns, including housing, benefits, work requirements, and supervisory arrangements. One employee is reporting to five supervisors at the same time. One supervisor is unable or unwilling to recognize the workloads imposed by other supervisors or why this displaced employee is working six days a week. One employee, who was allowed to report for duty in Peshawar upon her arrival in October 2009, spent just seven days there before being relocated to Islamabad. Her work requirements were signed four months later, but do not reflect the duties she performs in her section in Islamabad. Some work requirements for the other employees are not available or were just recently signed. In some cases, the supervisor actually assigning their work is not the designated rating officer. This situation may prejudice performance evaluations, career development, and promotion prospects.
The Department has procedures that should be followed when security or other concerns warrant a reduced U.S. presence or drawdown including a ceiling on the number of employees at post until the Under Secretary for Management approves the return of evacuated employees. Employees may be sent to a safe haven in a location other than the United States if it is anticipated that they will return to their original post within a relatively short time. A drawdown is initially approved for a period not to exceed 30 days, and may be extended in 30-day increments for a maximum of 180 days.

These procedures were not followed in the case of Peshawar. The de facto draw-down has continued well past 180 days. As mentioned above, despite this de facto drawdown, Islamabad-based Peshawar employees return periodically to Peshawar, and a new group will be arriving soon to follow this same ad hoc protocol. It is not clear when this situation will change.

Elsewhere in the report, the OIG says that "the growth in numbers and increased terrorist threats, some staff members arrive to find very different jobs or circumstances than they anticipated. The most dramatic example occurred in the early fall of 2008, after the assassination of a USAID contractor in Peshawar, the embassy and consulate decided de facto to safe haven some staff in Islamabad. Others arriving in the summer of 2009 stayed in the capital. These so-called “Peshugees” were, with only a few exceptions, shortchanged on housing, allowances, access to their household effects, and jobs. Embassy leadership, working with the Department, has found a way to accommodate the “Peshugees,” but their experiences exemplify the difficulties inherent in managing rapid staff expansion in a high-stress, dangerous environment."

The OIG report lauds Peshawar's principal officer and staff:
"Consulate General Peshawar operates under constant threat. The minimal U.S. staff there understands exactly why they are in harm’s way and generally have an expeditionary spirit that is rarely called for in the Foreign Service. By putting herself forward to engage Pakistanis outside consulate walls, despite the dangers, the principal officer in Peshawar provides her staff with an example of extraordinary bravery."

On a related note -- in  June 29, Peshawar's principal officer, U.S. Consul General E. Candace Putnam presented compensation packages to the families of the security personnel who were injured and killed during the terrorist attack on the Consulate on April 5, 2010. Three security personnel deployed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, Frontier Constabulary and Army, along with one civilian, lost their lives in the attack, while nine security guards employed by the Consulate were wounded.  The compensation was donated by the Department of State, an organization of Department of State security personnel and by the staff of the Consulate General.

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