US urges citizens to 'reconsider travel' to Pakistan

The United States on Wednesday unveiled a way to warn its citizens about the dangers of foreign travel, with a four-point safety ranking system for countries and an interactive world map. The new travel system ranks Pakistan on Level 3 titled as “Reconsider Travel”.

According to the US State Department’s website, American citizens should “reconsider travel to Pakistan due to terrorism. Some areas have increased risk.”

The travel advisory further points out high-risk areas in the country that citizens should avoid. “Do not travel to Balochistan province, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) due to terrorism,” states the website.

Travel advisory: US restricts movement of staff, citizens in Pakistan

It further says travel to Azad Kashmir area should also not be undertaken “due to terrorism and the potential for armed conflict.”

“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Pakistan. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, military and government installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and local government facilities.

“Over the past six months, there have been at least 40 significant terrorist attacks across Pakistan, resulting in over 225 deaths and 475 wounded, most of which occurred in Balochistan, K-P, and Fata. In the past, there have been large-scale terrorist attacks resulting in hundreds of casualties,” reads the travel advisory.

The advisory further states that travel by US government personnel within Pakistan is restricted, and additional restrictions on movements by US government personnel outside of US diplomatic facilities may be put in place at any time, depending on local circumstances and security conditions.

“Terrorists have targeted US diplomats and diplomatic facilities in the past, and evidence suggests they continue to do so,” says the State Department.

How does the rest of the world rank?

Ten war zones and failed states are ranked level four, “Do Not Travel”: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

North Korea is also level four, with the additional restriction that US law prohibits American travelers from using their passports there, effectively banning visits.

But some of the other country ratings may raise eyebrows — or international anger — even if the State Department says it is only presenting existing advice in a new format.

Officials insisted the change was to make advice clearer to US travelers, but the travel warning system has long been controversial and often offends foreign capitals.

“These are not political documents. These are simply based on our assessment of the security situation,” senior consular official Michelle Bernier-Toth said.

Major European allies like Britain, France and Germany are level two, “exercise increased caution,” while authoritarian Uzbekistan gets Level One, “exercise usual precautions.”

On Tuesday, US senators heard State Department officials say someone known to the Cuban government has a mystery weapon that they use to cause brain trauma to Americans in Havana.

But Cuba is ranked only level three, “Reconsider Travel.”

Officials insisted the change was to make advice clearer to US citizens that plan to travel.

Some countries have complained in the past that warnings exaggerate dangers and damage tourism, or suspect they have been subjected to a US diplomatic rebuke.

Travel advisory: China asks citizens in Pakistan to increase security, avoid public spaces

But each warning is accompanied by a country page on the website, explaining what specific threats have been identified and why the advice has been given.

Western European capitals, for example, while prosperous and politically stable, have seen recent attacks by Islamist militants in areas popular with tourists.

Mexico, a level two country, has complained in the past that US alerts hurt tourism, but the site gives a detailed breakdown of areas to avoid because of drug cartel violence.

The United States itself is not rated in the new system.

But as a rough guide, America’s per capita murder rate of 4.88 per 100,000 people puts it between Cuba at 4.72 (“reconsider travel”) and Somalia at 5.56 (“do not travel”).

Around 4,000 to 5,000 containers have been seized in the province

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