THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
two years in Karachi quite compared to that
one, it was not that far from our daily reality.
One of the world’s most dangerous cities,
with a large Taliban presence and a history
of violent conflict along ethnic, linguistic,
sectarian and political lines, Karachi is also
Pakistan’s business hub and home to the port
that is critical to the country’s economy and to
U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.
As befits a country as complex as Pakistan, there is a strong
undercurrent of anti-Americanism in Karachi. But it exists
alongside a respect for the opportunities and values that the
United States represents, as well as nostalgia for the close rela-
tions the two countries have enjoyed at various points over the
last 60 years.
Karachi is a city that matters to the United States. That is
reflected in our large consulate general, and in our robust
development, counternarcotics and public diplomacy programs.
Doing our job requires getting out into the city and province to
report on developments and trends, conduct oversight, engage
the media and students, and promote American business.
And that is what we did. As the threat level fluctuated, we
sometimes had to cancel or postpone trips and meetings, or go
into lockdown. Perhaps we overreacted to some situations. But
the point is that despite the increased level of post-Benghazi
scrutiny fromWashington, we were able to travel regularly in the
city and the province. As a result, we conducted and monitored
large public diplomacy and assistance programs and engaged
civil society; we supplied Washington with analysis on what was
happening; and we supported many official visitors.
Here are some lessons about conducting effective diplomacy
in a high-threat environment that I took away from this experi-
Mitigate Risks with the Right Resources
Every movement an American staff member made in Karachi,
whether to the barber shop, a national day reception or a ribbon-
cutting ceremony, was planned in advance. Every trip out of
town needed advance security inspections and coordination
with local officials.
With roughly 50 permanent American staff positions in Kara-
chi, this level of effort required significant resources: American
and local security personnel, trained drivers and bodyguards,
sufficient armored vehicles, and the budget to support all this. We
were lucky. With Pakistan a high priority for the United States, we
had the budget and personnel to maintain the tempo of opera-
tions we thought appropriate. We could also take people off com-
pound for shopping, recreation and cultural events.
I should note that all of the procedures above were in place
well before the Benghazi attacks, so we didn’t have to reinvent
the wheel. That enabled us to respond appropriately to changes
in threat levels, and assure Washington that we were taking all
In Karachi we were lucky to occupy a purpose-built, secure
and comfortable compound that had been constructed after
attacks on our old facility during the previous decade. This
allowed us to conduct operations effectively, but also to hunker
down safely when external threats required. Having the tools
at our disposal to manage threats gave me the confidence to
approve off-compound travel and permit incoming visits, and to
argue against drawing down staff.
Set Clear and Consistent Procedures
Consulate General Karachi’s rules governing travel and
engagement reflected local conditions, which differed from
those in Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore. As long as everyone
understood and adhered to these policies, our operations could
proceed with a good degree of predictability and an expecta-
tion of safe movement. Of course, life isn’t always that simple,
particularly with a large stream of temporary staff, regular staff
turnover and the vicissitudes of Karachi. We compensated for
those variables in the following ways:
■ Strict adherence to standard operating procedures from the
■ Concrete and specific briefings for all new staff from a
Regional Security Office that understood that positive customer
By some counts, there were more
demonstrations against the anti-Islam
video “Innocence of Muslims” in
Karachi than anywhere else in the world.
Michael Dodman, a Foreign Service officer since 1988,
was consul general in Karachi from July 2012 to August
2014, and won the 2014 Ryan C. Crocker Award for
Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy for
his work there. He is currently director of the entry-level
career development and assignments section of the Bureau of Human