U.S. Consulate in Pakistan Shut Down After Lahore Terror Threat
On Thursday, the State Department issued a warning stating that the United States consulate in Lahore, Pakistan would be temporarily closed and that all non-emergency personnel would be moved to the main embassy in Islamabad due to "credible threat information" specifically targeting Lahore. Additionally, the State Department released a travel warning discouraging American citizens from non-essential travel into the country. The closing is unrelated to those of 19 embassies across the Middle East earlier in the week.
Like previous such closures in the past, the reasons for the evacuation still remain vague. Violence has gripped Pakistan as a particularly bloody week comes to a close, with reports of bombings at a funeral for a slain police officer and gunmen opening fire outside a mosque dominating world headlines. The consulate was already set to close this weekend in observance of Eid al-Fitr, however, a State Department spokeswoman stated that they will continue to evaluate the situation over the next few days.
Going by that logic, the closing of the embassy appears logical. With the Obama administration still feeling snakebitten after the events at Benghazi a year ago, any threat, regardless of its vagueness, is being taken very seriously, to the point where excess caution is exercised. A Taliban spokesman has stated that his group was behind the mosque shooting in Quetta, however, they have not been cited as the group behind the embassy threat. Other potential sources of the threat are Al-Qaeda or their sympathizers in Lahore, or Lashkar-e Taiba, a group based in the city that has been designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
An unusually violent week (in Pakistan terms) coupled with the embassy threat has given the Obama administration enough cause for concern that the evacuation is a warranted response. Of course, it could all just be an empty threat set to scare and antagonize U.S. officials; it that is actually the case, then it's working.
However, this threat, whether credible or not, is no political stunt either. Unlike the previously mentioned embassy closings this week, there has been no mention of how the State Department found out about the threat, no mention of surveillance, and no mention of who was identified behind the threats. The "leaks" issued by Washington were a rather blatant PR move in order to get some heat off the NSA surveillance controversy. In this case, though, the atmosphere of violence in Pakistan is very real, and the past week has put the United States on knife's edge.