The State Department wants to hire “local guards” to protect its diplomats in Pakistan. Yes, now. Right after a U.S. military mission gone wrong killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, delivering another battering to an already fragile alliance.
The State Department recently announced it’s seeking local Pakistani guards to keep its diplomats safe at the embassy in Islamabad and consulates in Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. Those guards will need to “deter potential terrorist attacks,” according to a contract pre-solicitation, by “restricting entry of unauthorized personnel, operation of walk-through metal detectors, and hand-held detectors.”
Give the State Department points for good intentions. The department relies on contractors, not U.S. troops, to protect its diplomats in dangerous places. Only U.S. contractors aren’t exactly the most popular people in Pakistan, after CIA contractor Ray Davis caused an international incident by killing two Pakistanis in Lahore who he said tried to rob him. Hiring Pakistanis instead looks like a goodwill gesture, even if it was born out of necessity.
It’s disturbingly too easy to imagine Pakistani guards working with terror groups to give dangerous people access to a U.S. official or facility, both alluring targets. Pakistani troops whom the U.S. has funded and equipped for a decade, at a minimum, look the other way when insurgents fire rockets at U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan. Hired Pakistani guards could just as easily ignore the trill of a hand-held metal detector. Or strap themselves with explosives.
What kind of background checks will those guards go through? It’ll be “conducted by the Contractor in accordance with Pakistan law,” the pre-solicitation announces. State’s trust-but-don’t-verify record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Security contractors who’ve passed background checks have ended up holding frat-style parties on the job, engaging in extracurricular sex trafficking, snorting coke…. The list goes on and on.
State’s in a bind here. Hiring U.S. contractors to protect its diplomats carries risks. But so does hiring Pakistani guards. It’s almost like outsourcing security responsibilities is an inherently flawed concept.
According to the pre-solicitation, State doesn’t have much time to resolve the dilemma. It’ll formally issue the Pakistan contract on Thursday. If that’s not enough time, it had better hope against hope for a sudden burst of pro-Americanism in Pakistan.