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MAY 2015



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

necessary precautions.

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

top down;

■ 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