Friday, October 19, 2007

Terror and You in the Workplace

Every now and then something happens that makes the realities of my immediate future a little clearer. The bombings yesterday in Karachi do exactly that. Were i posted in Karachi, what would i be doing now? Would all of my colleagues at the consulate be okay? i would almost certainly know someone who saw the attacks, even if they were uninjured. If i were in Islamabad (and there is a small but existing chance of going there next summer), i imagine that i would have had a very long night trying to deal with this.

Many of our speakers have emphasized that the Foreign Service of today is not the one that they joined in the 1980s. 700 positions around the world are unaccompanied, meaning that the US government is not willing to accept the liability of an employee's family's safety in such locations. Thus, the families remain in the United States while the employee goes to post for an abbreviated tour. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq are among these places. To put that number in perspective, there are only about 11,000 Foreign Service officers in the service. Never before has our government been so forthright about putting its diplomats so close to harm's way, and this has consequences, both good and bad, in terms of diplomacy and security. The Karachi consulate was bombed in 2002, killing two people. Nine people died when the Jeddah consulate was stormed in 2004. It could happen to my post next.

i can't focus on previous death tolls in places where i might go. What's the point then? i'm just mentally crippling myself. Awareness, however, is a good thing, and the Karachi bombings brought home a little more clearly what i will face, first-hand or indirectly, in my career.


  1. This is almost exactly how I felt when I went through the little earthquake Wednesday night. That sudden sense of "Oh my God, I put myself in this position. Why did I think this would be okay?" (I feel somewhat bad comparing a natural phenomenon to terrorism, but I think it balances out a little in the "frequency of occurrence" department.)

    I trust we'll both be fine, because that's the only way to function. >_<

  2. ... Sorry, I just have to say this. Blogger shows up in Japanese for me, so my comment has the following written at the top:
    "Leslie-san wrote [polite form!] the following..."
    Oh, JAPAN. You crazy, crazy place.

  3. Actually, I believe there are only about 6,000 FSOs...the remainder of the 11,000 are specialists, right?

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  5. 11K is the number we've been hearing over and over in training, with about 6.5K of that at post overseas.

  6. I was reading another article on the plane today that also mentioned the 12,000 figure...I guess I was asleep that day in A100!

  7. I worked as a psychologist in a maximum security prison for a couple of years. I felt comfortable enough in that setting to play basketball in the gym on a daily basis during my lunch. I wasn't playing with other employees, but rather with mostly inmates that were in prison for murder, rape, home invasion, etc. During the time I worked at this prison, fellow employees were attacked, stabbed, raped, and inmates were stabbed to death. I guess I am writing all of this to say that even with all of this happening I always felt safe as I walked through the prison gates. I think Hannah and anyone in foreign service has to approach their working situation as everything will be fine. Don't ever let them see you sweat:)

  8. Sorry to be a nerd about this but... you'll recall the Karachi consulate was also bombed in 2006 when Bush was dropping by [in Islamabad] to see check up on his boy Musharraf.

    Karachi is a bit violent and unsafe for locals and foreigners. So much deadly crime, sectarianism, and [secular]political terrorism that the jihadis must feel left out at times. It's the perfect criminal environment where you can get away with anything and blend in with 20 million others who live in the city.

    On the other hand, Islamabad is safer than most American cities. It's also really artificial and boring but that exactly why its very secure - because its insulated from the rest of the country. Which also makes sense given how out of touch every government based there seems to be with its own people.

    I hope you can avoid it altogether but I'm sure you'll be just fine if in the end they do banish you there!