Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Reminisces: Security and Consulates

Taking a break from my habitual attack on the fools now running and ruining our government and country. It's a lazy Saturday. I just helped my daughter with her college macro-economics homework, which had a lot of nonsense about "global warming." Watched TV a bit and all this news about "outraged" Muslim mobs got me thinking about Embassy security, and prompted a wave of memories of my first time in Pakistan.

We headed to Pakistan after a tour in a bitterly poor Caribbean country about which I will write later. My wife and I ended up in Pakistan thanks to a last minute bureaucratic mix up that saw our assignment to Brasilia changed to Islamabad. It happens. I was young, adventuresome, and amazed that anybody would hire me for anything, so I didn't mind. My wife, however, well, you know, she kept thinking Brazil or Pakistan, Brazil or Pakistan, Brazil or Pakistan . . ..

Did I mention that we had arrived about thirteen months after "outraged" Muslims had burned the Embassy in Islamabad almost to the ground? They had become "outraged" by press reports that Israeli and American "commandos" had assaulted Mecca. The government of Pakistan, under General Zia Ul-Haq, "declined" to protect the Embassy: when the attack began, Zia took a long bicycle ride and remained "unavailable" almost all day for the Ambassador's desperate phone calls. A US Marine guard and a member of the Defense Attache Office were murdered, along with two Pakistani employees. The Embassy relocated to a temporary building shared with the UN. We swallowed hard, and "forgave" Zia; we needed his help to throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

I was to be a field analyst reporting directly to the Ambassador and DCM, without having to go through either the political or the economic counselor. I would seek to provide a view separate from the analyses done by State, CIA, and DIA in Washington, or by our own political and economic sections. In effect, I was to be an in-house ombudsman. It was an innovative idea, which, unfortunately, was later killed by those who felt uncomfortable having their views examined and critiqued. I also would run the refugee program; Pakistan played host to over three million Afghan refugees. That job provided the excuse and the means to travel all over the country at a time when the Pakistanis sought to control our movements as much as possible. When not on the road--about two weeks out of every month--I would split my time between Islamabad and Peshawar.

Peshawar, capital of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), was the most exotic city I had ever seen. It sat just a few miles from the Afghan border, reached over a winding road through the spectacular Khyber Pass. I loved the adrenaline rush of the crowded bazaar, the noise, the smells, the chaos, and the edgy feel to the place. It was the real "Star Wars" bar with an improbable and at times explosive mix of races, ethnicities, spies, journalists, relief workers, refugees, knaves, hustlers, adventurers, liars, wanna-be mercenaries, rug merchants, gold smugglers, drug traffickers, fruit and meat vendors, mujahedin, and everywhere guns, guns everywhere--all kinds of them.

The Peshawar Consulate had been slated for closure. Following the decommissioning years before of the USAF base near Peshawar--the one from which Francis Gary Power's ill-fated U-2 mission had departed--the bean counters saw the Consulate as an expensive relic. With the Soviet invasion, however, and the severe drawdown of our mission in Kabul, Peshawar assumed a new importance as we tried to monitor events in Afghanistan and keep tabs on the mujahedin. That had not yet translated into resources--the bureaucracy is slow, and would take years to upgrade the Consulate.

Ours was one of three diplomatic missions in Peshawar: USA, Iran, and Soviet-run Afghanistan. We did not have much interaction; in fact, none--no diplomatic get-togethers or cocktails around the pool.

The Consulate compound consisted of a large, beautiful house for the Consul General, and a small office building in which at various times two or three Americans worked along with several Pakistanis. Security, such as it was, came via good relations with the NWFP Governor--a delightful, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, British-educated general with kids in the US--a high wall, and a detail of the Khyber Rifles in a dirty encampment immediately outside the compound. The Rifles spent their time sleeping, making tea, washing clothes, smoking, spitting, and eating. I had doubts about their usefulness in a crisis, and kept a S&W .357 Mag with me at all times, plus a Remington 870, loaded with 04 buck, under the office desk, and another in the bedroom.

For reasons I won't go into, we had a long gap between Consuls assigned to Peshawar. The Vice-Consul, too, departed. The post was empty; I was asked to fill in until new people were assigned. My wife and I made the long, grueling, and dangerous drive up the Grand Trunk road from Islamabad in our little Chevy Chevette, and proceeded to live alone there. Well, we were "alone" except for the Khyber Rifles, about fifteen servants, some seven or eight Pakistani consulate employees, and a surly driver for the enormous partially armored Chrysler sedan and the 4X4 Jeep Wagoneer. It was a different world, and we had not yet gotten used to Muslim "outrage." President Reagan, furthermore, was seen as a friend of Pakistan and the Afghans, and as a cowboy who would not hesitate to pull the trigger, unlike his feckless predecessor. We did not feel particularly threatened.

Future entries will have more about THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE INTREPID DIPLOMAD IN PESHAWAR, but let me wrap up this meandering intro with a little anecdote. Remember, security was pretty lax back then.

We had a program in which we paid fairly well for assorted Soviet hardware. We had particular interest in the new AK-74 used by the elite Soviet SPETSNAZ units but also in explosives, ammunition, communication equipment, manuals, and just about anything else we could get. One day I was sitting in the office, when there was a knock on the door. In came our head Pakistani employee towing two very rough, dirty, and downright mean looking Afghan mujahedin. He introduced them, and said they had come to collect on our reward program.

"What have you got?"

One of them reached into a muddy canvas bag and pulled out what looked like a large clod of dirt and slammed it down on the desk, bits of earth flying all over my papers.

"What is it?"

"Soviet land mine. Bouncing Betty."

"You put a land mine on my desk?" My voice rose a few octaves, as I jumped out of my chair, and flattened myself against the wall.

"Do not worry. One of my men stepped on it a few days ago and it didn't explode. There might be something wrong with it. I will sell it cheaper."

Well, as they say, needless to say, we had the building evacuated, and called the local Pakistani army base for a bomb disposal team. After a very long time, the team showed up, and took the thing away.

As noted, we had a different attitude towards security issues back then. Or did we? How with the long and tragic experience we have had since the days I am discussing, could we have had such abysmal security in Benghazi?

10 comments:

  1. At least you didn't have Tony Poe mailing you ears from his kills.

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    1. No. no Tony Poe, but we did have visits from the folks at "Solider of Fortune" magazine . . . OMG, were they odd.

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  2. I remember watching tv report back in the 80's about Afghans in Pakistan. It might have been in Peshawar, but they showed a local armourers' shop. Behind him against the wall among the AKs was a Martini-Henri, looking like it just came from Rorkes' Drift.

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    1. Yes, that was probably in the town of Dara which was a few miles away and in the Tribal Area. They were amazing gun-makers.

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  3. LA Times digital subscription, $0.99 per month.
    Diplomad Blog, priceless.

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  4. Thanks for this. John is right, your recollections are priceless. Hoping you can find a spot you would enjoy in a future administration, if that would tweak your beak.

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    1. Thanks. I don't want to become that boring old fart that starts off everything with, "I remember when I . . . " I will try to do this only on occasion--probably on the weekends.

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  5. Love the story. But got to ask....


    Did you pay them for the landmine?

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  6. You describe Peshawar exactly as I remember it in 1986. Eternally mesmerizing!

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  7. You describe Peshawar exactly as I remember it in 1986. Eternally mesmerizing!

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