A friend passed on an interesting story from McClatchy News today. U.S. officials told the news agency Wednesday, “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.” The Obama administration has reportedly asked Congress for $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.”
Larger facilities are needed to support and protect the “surge” of civilian officials into both Pakistan and Afghanistan, say sources. McClatchy cited State Department 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 project is said to rival the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which opened in January 2009 after construction delays costing the government $740 million. Nicknamed Fortress America, the embassy occupies 104 acres of land. According to Foreign Policy, Baghdad’s embassy “is six times larger than the U.N. complex in New York and more than 10 times the size of the new U.S. Embassy being built in Beijing, which at 10 acres is America’s second-largest mission.”
A few thoughts on this development – First, given that expats in Pakistan [and most countries for that matter] are relatively insulated from the rest of society, especially with security precautions, won’t a self-efficient embassy exacerbate that matter further? Can U.S. officials working in Pakistan truly understand the nuances of the country if they never have to leave the compound?
Secondly, although McClatchy reported that it seems likely the administration will receive funding for this embassy [which will also include projects in Lahore, Peshawar, and Kabul], Congress hasn’t even approved funding for the Kerry-Lugar bill for further aid to Pakistan. While I know the safety of U.S. citizens is a different matter entirely, I still wonder how realistic it will be to fund this project.
Finally, with anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan still high, such a project will undoubtedly face backlash, and those ramifications may arguably outweigh the benefits of building a safer complex in the first place. McClatchy quoted the Jamaat-e-Islami‘s Khurshid Ahmed, who stated, “This is a replay of Baghdad…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.”
What are your thoughts?