The U.N. has declared the Pakistani capital unsafe for the children of its international staff and ordered them out, putting the once tranquil city on par with Kabul and Somalia. Underlining Pakistan's crumbling security situation, a suicide bomber on Thursday failed in an attempt to assassinate a prominent anti-Taliban politician, and troops reportedly killed 27 militants in the restive northwest.
Pakistan is under intense U.S. pressure to combat militants responsible for rising attacks in neighboring Afghanistan. Its faltering efforts so far have been met with a blur of suicide attacks in Pakistani cities.
The U.N., which employs more than 2,000 people in Pakistan including about 100 foreigners, has not been hit. However, the
truck bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, which killed 54 people including three Americans and the Czech ambassador, prompted the world body as well as foreign missions to review security.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the U.N. in New York, said the decision to relocate children was temporary.
"All essential staff will remain on duty, and all U.N. work will proceed as normal," Haq said. "The United Nations intends
to return to regular staffing levels as soon as conditions allow." Under the decision, U.N. expatriate staff will no longer be allowed to live with their children in the capital, the neighboring city of Rawalpindi or in Quetta, on the Afghan frontier. Amena Kamaal, a U.N. spokeswoman in Islamabad, said only about 20 families were affected.
Much of the border region, including the city of Peshawar is already off-limits for U.N. families. Some of those affected can relocate to areas deemed safer, such as Lahore or Karachi. But others are expected to leave Pakistan altogether, which could disrupt U.N. operations in the country as it faces severe economic difficulties and a crumbling of basic public services in militancy-torn areas.
Pakistan has suffered a surge in attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants on government, military and Western targets over the last two years that has fanned fears about the nuclear-armed nation's stability.
Pakistani authorities have sought to reassure an expatriate community for whom the leafy, grid-plan city at the foot of the Himalayas makes a comfortable home.
However, the precautions have only made parts of the city resemble Kabul, which _ like trouble spots Somalia and southern Nigeria _ is a non-family posting for U.N. international staff. Baghdad and Khartoum are the only capitals where the U.N. is on a higher security level, Kamaal said.