Washington: The US has asked its citizens to postpone all their non-essential travel to Pakistan in wake of the increased and continued terror threat in the country.
In a travel advisory, the second in less than 45 days, the State Department referred to a recent advisory of the Federal Aviation Administration, which cautioned pilots of commercial airlines about the risks to civil aviation operating in Pakistan, particularly at low altitude, during the arrival and departure phases of flight, and when on the ground, due to extremist or militant activity.
"The Department of State warns US citizens against all non-essential travel to Pakistan," said the travel advisory which was issued on Monday.
As a result consular services provided by the American Embassy in Islamabad, the Consulate General in Karachi, and the Consulate General in Lahore are often limited due to the security environment. At this time, the Consulate General in Peshawar is not providing consular services, it said.
"Pakistan continues to experience significant terrorist violence, including sectarian attacks," the State Department said adding that targeted attacks against government officials, humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, tribal elders, and law enforcement personnel are common.
"Throughout Pakistan, foreign and indigenous terrorist groups continue to pose a danger to US citizens. Evidence suggests that some victims of terrorist activity have been targeted because they are US citizens. Terrorists and criminal groups have resorted to kidnapping for ransom," the travel advisory said.
If one chooses to live or travel in Pakistan despite this warning, they should vary travel routes and timing, especially for routine trips and minimise the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, government and military institutions, and other locations, it said.
Americans travelling to Pakistan should also minimise the number of US or western nationals congregating in any one location at any time, and avoid hotels that do not apply stringent security measures.
"Take a photo of your passport, entry stamp and Pakistani visa, and keep it with you at all times. Keep digital copies of these documents in a secure, electronically accessible place," the advisory said.
According to the State Department, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in a NOTAM (Advisory Notice to Airmen) issued on December 30, 2016 said that there is a risk to civil aviation operating in Pakistan, particularly at low altitude, during the arrival and departure phases of flight, and when on the ground, due to extremist or militant activity.
The advisory, however does not prohibit US operators or airmen from operating in the specified area, as it is strictly an advisory notice.
"While there have been no reports of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) being used against civil aviation in the territory and airspace of Pakistan, some extremist/militant groups are suspected of having access to MANPADS," FAA said.
"As a result, there is a potential risk for terrorists to target civil aviation with MANPADS at low altitudes. Some MANPADS may be able to reach a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet," it said.
FAA said that additionally, cross-border tensions in the Kashmir region were elevated in August to September 2016 due to extremist/militant activity, and operators should be alert to the possibility of temporary airspace restrictions issued by the air navigation service providers responsible for managing that airspace.
In June 2014, extremists/militants attacked Jinnah International Airport (OPKC) in Karachi, resulting in over 30 deaths and damage to airport facilities. "During several separate incidents in 2014, aircraft on approach into Peshawar's Bacha Khan International Airport (OPPS) were fired on by small arms, which resulted in one fatality," it said.