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Situation unpredictable, threat of attack very high — foreign countries advise citizens to steer clear of Pakistan

Country-wide clashes took place between Imran Khan's supporters and the police after his arrest

Several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, have advised their citizens against travelling to Pakistan after violent clashes broke out in the entire country following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday.

Cancelling all its consular appointments for Wednesday, the US Embassy in Islamabad stated that it is monitoring reports of clashes between demonstrators and police and also sporadic demonstrations underway or being planned elsewhere throughout Pakistan.

It advised its citizens to exercise “heightened vigilance” and avoid locations with large crowds, be aware of the surroundings and review their personal security plans.

The UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advised against all travel to several Pakistani districts citing calls for nationwide protests after Imran Khan was taken into custody.

“Further disruption should be expected. Political rallies and protests regularly take place across Pakistan. Some may have an anti-western dimension and could turn violent. Tear gas can be used to disperse protests. Avoid demonstrations, large crowds of people and political events,” mentioned the latest FCDO advisory.

It advised British citizens to be alert and turn away and move to a safe place if they find themselves near any protest site.

The UK government specifically pointed out that foreigners, in particular Westerners, may be directly targeted.

“You should try to avoid all crowds and public events including political gatherings and religious events throughout Pakistan, and take appropriate security precautions,” stated the advisory.

“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Pakistan. There’s a high threat of terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence throughout the country, including the major cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi,” it added.

Asking its citizens to minimise their exposure to areas that pose a higher risk, the advisory listed densely populated and unsecured areas, such as markets, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, hiking trails, airports, infrastructure projects, public transport, schools and educational institutions as potential focal points for attacks.

Updating its travel advise for the country, Canada said that the security situation is “evolving and remains unpredictable” in Pakistan.

“Exercise a high degree of caution in Pakistan due to the unpredictable security situation. There is a threat of terrorism, civil unrest, sectarian violence and kidnapping. Demonstrations are expected to take place across Pakistan, due to the recent arrest of a prominent public figure during a court appearance on May 9, 2023,” it said.

The Canadian government said that security forces continue to be on high alert in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.

Australia too updated its Pakistan travel advisory, asking its citizens to reconsider their need to travel to the country overall due to the volatile security situation and very high threat of terrorist attacks, kidnapping and violence.

It said that terrorist groups hostile to foreign interests operate in Pakistan and the threat of attack remains very high.

“Australian officials in Islamabad have been advised to increase vigilance and limit travel within the city. Political protest action has increased in recent months which can impact travel and can turn violent,” said the travel advisory.