US Ambassador complains to Pakistani Government that media reports have exposed the location of American residences inside Lahore’s military zone, but fails to mention why US personnel with diplomatic cover have been found at wrong places, sometimes carrying weapons that diplomats are not supposed to…
Lahore’s military zone is not only exposed to covert Indian operatives but also to undercover US agents with their suspicious heavy-duty equipment placed in several houses inside a gated community right in the heart of the city’s military area. This has been going on since 2007.
Ahmed Quraishi | Special Report
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-The eastern city of Lahore is exposed not only to the Indians who have been sending terrorists to plant bombs in public places for the past quarter of a century, but also to the Americans who expanded their covert presence inside Pakistan in the last three years of President Musharraf’s rule. After the return to democracy in 2008, the US presence [beyond diplomatic requirements or disguised under diplomatic cover] is reported to have increased manifold.
Last year, Pakistanis were stunned to watch several incidents where US citizens were caught by the Military Police at checkpoints leading up to the city’s military zone known as Cantt. Most of the time, these US individuals refused to say what business took them to the military area. The US Consulate in Lahore is located far away from this zone, which compounded the mystery. These US nationals also refused to allow the police to check their vehicles, which is a standard procedure that all Pakistanis undergo considering the terrorist attacks. On a couple of occasions, US vehicles whose drivers refused to cooperate with MP caused long queues at checkpoints. Military Police officers impounded these vehicles. This led to US officials complaining to their media that Pakistan was ‘harassing’ US diplomats.
But the truth is that the Americans have covertly maintained an outpost of several houses in a gated community right in the heart of the city’s military zone. This zone is so sensitive that a half-constructed Sheraton Hotel lies abandoned on one of Cantt’s main streets because the Pakistani military complained that the new hotel’s upper floors provided an easy view of the residence of the commander of the Pakistan Army Corp that guards Pakistan’s northeastern border with India.
This makes the covert US presence in this area intriguing to say the least. The exact location of these houses, in the elite Sarwar Colony, is shown in the pictures that accompany this report. Most of the residents of this colony are senior retired Pakistani military officers. A handful of them have apparently leased out their homes to the Americans at exorbitant rates that far exceed the normal level of leased property rates in the Colony, according to a fascinating expose published by TheNation and is reproduced below in full.
Why are we talking about a few houses rented out by Americans linked to US government in a sensitive part of the eastern city?
The reason is a wave of terror targeting Lahore over the past two years. This is not to suggest that the US government has something to do with this. The suspicion centers on local terrorists indirectly or directly aided by intelligence operatives from multiple countries based in Afghanistan. The point here is that the city of Lahore is exposed not only to local terrorists working with foreign handlers, but also to Indians and possibly to private American security contractors. These contractors expanded their presence in Pakistan in the past two years, mostly using diplomatic cover. The US Embassy in Islamabad under the incumbent Ambassador has been instrumental in pushing for an expanded role for private US defense contractors in Pakistan over the past two years.
Many Pakistanis feel that such penetration of Pakistan by foreign countries is detrimental to our national security and has unnecessarily exposed us to outsiders pursuing interests that may not overlap with our own.
Today, the US Embassy in Islamabad leaked key points of a letter that US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson has sent to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. In the letter, Ambassador Patterson complained about The Nation report on the American presence in Cantt, Lahore. More interestingly, she made a veiled threat that Pak-US relations would suffer if those Americans became targets for a terror attack. The letter was leaked to the Dawn newspaper.
The most interesting part of her letter was an acknowledgment on her part that the security of US diplomats in Pakistan is the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan. This is important because it was Ms Patterson who only a year ago was lobbying the Pakistani government to allow US private defense contractors into Pakistan and was running from one government office to another to ensure that these private US contractors are allowed to carry banned weapons anywhere in the country.
When Ms. Patterson was asked why she needed these private security contractors, she said it was to protect US diplomats. Critics said that was the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan and that the Ambassador should not cross a line. Her acknowledgment of this indicates a shift. Probably it has to do with recent understandings between Army Chief Gen. Kayani and US military officials where the army chief reportedly asked US to stop indirect methods of coercion, including media leaks, the role of private contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the role of CIA in the region.
So how did the Pakistani military allow such a breach to occur in a sensitive area of Lahore?
One explanation is that the Americans moved with their gadgetry and equipment to this place sometime in late 2006 and early 2007. This means that the arrangement had the blessings of former President Musharraf. This is significant because it means the US presence in this sensitive location is part of the sovereign understandings that Pakistan entered with the United States during that time. And no matter how damaging this is for Pakistani security interests, Islamabad and the Pakistani military are forced to put up with this foreign presence for as long as those understandings are effective.
Another explanation is that Mr. Musharraf’s regime allowed the Americans to setup shop here without the full knowledge of all the relevant branches of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. If this is the case, then it is alarming indeed.
This story becomes relevant in the aftermath of a series of attacks in Lahore over the past two years, including one that targeted a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The strange part is that all of these attacks either target Pakistan’s allies [Sri Lankans, Chinese] or attack ordinary Pakistanis to kill the largest numbers of them. Americans or American and British interests have never been attacked in this manner throughout this so-called war on terror that Pakistan has been executing on America’s behalf. If anything, much of this terror is linked to a proxy militia in South Waziristan that claims to be a Pakistani Taliban but receives all its arms and funding from US-controlled Afghanistan where the Indians also maintain a vast intelligence network aimed at Pakistan.
For a list of recorded incidents in Pakistan where private US mercenaries or defense contractors were caught at places where they should not be, see this story, What Robert Gates Didn’t Say – And US Media Hides – About Blackwater In Pakistan.
The question is: What are the Americans doing in Cantt’s Sarwar Colony?
The easiest answer is taking up residence. But there is something more to this than homemaking. The location indicates that the Americans want to keep an eye on movements and chatter in Cantt, which could indicate where Pakistan’s relations with India are headed. Washington is keen to convince Pakistan that India is trustworthy enough for Pakistan to move its army units away from India’s border and get busy in fighting America’s war in Afghanistan.
The Americans could also be interested in keeping an eye on some of the nearby military installations, including one of the largest Pakistan Air Force bases, and also a couple of nuclear installations. There are indications that the US is also interested in seeing the war on terror extended to the heartland of Punjab province in the mistaken belief that this would hurt the base of Pakistani military [Indian intelligence analysts have convinced their American counterparts that Pakistan's military is all about Punjab province and hitting this province can help subdue Pakistan's military and ensure its full alignment with US objectives.]
Here is the report published by TheNation on Feb. 21 on the covert US presence in Sarwar Colony in Cantt, Lahore, since 2007 and how scores of Pakistani families have become unwilling neighbors of foreigners they don’t want to see around:
“The mystery of why US personnel were being constantly caught entering into the sensitive area of Lahore Cantonment and thereby getting caught by the Military Police, has finally been resolved. However, in the process some serious questions have arisen.
In 2007, under the Musharraf regime, Americans moved into Sarwar Colony, located behind CSD Cantt just off Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Road. This gated colony contains around 200-250 houses and they are owned by retired or serving generals of Pakistan Army. The Americans have been comfortable ensconced here in a few rented houses since 2007 in what is a highly sensitive location. So question number one: Why were the Americans given permission to locate themselves in this area and who gave the permission?
Their activities really caught on only recently when they acquired Houses 87 and 88 (see pictures), ostensibly for the US embassy staff relocated from Peshawar to Lahore! The rents paid for these houses are also far higher than the average for the Colony which is around Rs 150,000 maximum. The Americans are paying around Rs 320,000 for each house per month.
Towards the end of the last year and the start of this year, the Americans intercepted at the Cantt bridge several times were all those coming to this location. However, these Americans refused to tell Military Police officials what their destination was inside Lahore Cantt. So question number two is: Why, if the Americans had rented these houses genuinely for residential accommodation? Linked to this is question three: How come the Military Police were not in on this vital piece of information? Why were they being kept in the dark?
When these houses were rented, in the first three months high security measures were taken for them -grilling, the glass was all changed probably to bullet proof, and infrared security devices were installed with a lighting system. Then, four months ago, big container trailers entered the colony (which is restricted) about seven or eight in number, and they were off loaded into the houses in the predawn hours. After the offloading, the security of the premises was given to Elite Force Punjab and Wackenhut private security guards. The covert usage of these buildings became apparent because anyone seen coming too close to the properties was mistreated and threatened.
Children playing in the park right in front of these two houses often threw balls inside the porches of these two houses. Usually Americans come out swearing. Once, children reported that a growling and angry American came out and flattened the ball before returning it to them.
Some of the Pakistani guards outside the two houses told residents in the neighbourhood that the Americans were transporting and installing hi-tech equipment in the houses. At least one resident in the neighbourhood reports that some of the guards took photographs of some of this equipment and showed them to the residents. One of the residents who saw the pictures reports that a US citizen was watching the guard from inside the house and came out, snatched the mobile phone and threatened the resident not to contact the guards again or come near the house.
But the real issue and core question is: Why the Americans are being allowed to use houses in this sensitive area of Lahore cantonment when there now exists a decision of the Government that foreigners cannot even enter the cantonment areas without prior permission?
To find out how the local residents are taking to their American neighbours, The Nation sent its reporter to the Colony and discovered a terrorised Pakistani community right in the heart of their own country. His account speaks for itself since of some unidentified private American security guards equipped with M4s. The offloaded stuff was professionally packed in layers of plastic and wood.”