Islamic extremists, if nothing else, are patient. They understand western culture and our tendency toward complacency over time. Complacency is their ally and our Achilles heel. There will be further attacks on the US; they will be massive and destructive, exposing open arteries in our defenses created by politicizing Homeland Security policy and procedures. Western powers, most aggressively the United States, have increased global surveillance at the cost of their international standing. Phone tapping and online surveillance of every kind has become a technological art form. “Secure communications” no longer exist as the most sophisticated systems in the world, those of friends and foes alike, are being compromised in an ever-widening arc of eavesdropping by the US National Security Agency. The American oath of allegiance creates a moral conundrum for foreign service officers, does the end justify the means?
Most girls my age would die for the chance to be an Ambassador’s daughter, it even sounds cool, “The Ambassador’s Daughter” like a novel by F Scott Fitzgerald.
Mom and Dad met at Indiana University Bloomington, a leading research university in the United States. Dad was the son of a pharmacist from Martinsville, a small town about half way between Bloomington and Indianapolis. Even though he could have commuted as a day student and saved his family money his Dad insisted he board and receive the full college experience, maybe join a fraternity and certainly try out for the baseball team. Dad was a high school all American in baseball and for awhile thought he’d be offered a scholarship. But, of course, at IU if you couldn’t play basketball you may as well forget it, that’s where the scholarship money went.
They don’t have a professional baseball team in Indiana, Hoosiers follow the Chicago White Sox or Detroit Tigers, especially if you lived in the northern half of the state. That didn’t deter my Dad, he loved the game then and still does.
When I was born in 1995, Bill Clinton was in the White House. Aside from a brief confrontation in Haiti the US was at peace around the world. That all changed when we passed into the 21st Century and Islamic extremists humbled the US with their devastating attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
My Dad, Owen Wintour, married my Mom Sally Magruder, in the Beck Chapel at IU Bloomington on a warm August morning in 1993. Deciding on a career in public service, Dad responded to state dept. recruiters on campus in the Spring of 1990
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
US Government Officials-Oath Of Office
This was to be our first home leave since arriving in Pakistan, these first six months felt like an eternity, we needed the vacation, I rented a house on the water in Rhode Island, Owen loved the ocean and the location was convenient to Boston, New York and Washington where Alex and I would have fun doing the art scene and visiting friends. Owen would catch up on his reading and enjoy day sailing on Long Island Sound.
We were in the middle of a three car caravan accompanied by Jim Carlisle, a career diplomat and the perfect Charge’ de Affaires, a formal manner but always with a practiced smile to make his counterparts feel at ease. He sat in the jump seat in front of Owen, Alex and I sat together in the back near the double cargo doors guarding the luggage. The driver was Pakistani as was the security guard on the passenger side.
We were crossing a bridge when it happened. First the blinding flash, then the delayed sound, it was deafening with the unmistakable smell of high explosive cordite. The Ford Expedition in front erupted in a mushroom cloud of smoke and fire as it leaped off the road, settling back in a black pile of melting plastic, glass and metal.
Our driver slammed on the brakes, ramming the gear into reverse while twisting his body around for a better view out the rear door windows. It was to late, the car behind us met the same fate, we were bookended by smoking heaps of scrap metal as the masked bombers, five of them, surrounded our SUV.
This was a professional hit team, their leader was calm, he directed the others with chilling efficiency. They wore black ski masks, bullet proof vests and ear phone sets, only the leader spoke, the others took orders.
The smaller man had a knapsack, he turned his back to another who unzipped it and removed the gray matter, it looked like putty, he slapped it hard against the double rear doors. These would be the most vulnerable, they locked together rather than to the structural integrity of the vehicle. Both doors exploded out and away from the car dangling precariously on their hinges. The short one jumped in first, throwing the luggage out and scrambling towards us as our security guard leveled his government issue Glock-45, he hesitated a moment to long, the red dot sighting device from the backup shooter was in the center of his forehead. The bone and brain fragment from the melon sized exit wound in the back of his head splattered against the windshield. The driver went for the concealed weapon under the front seat but thought better of it as the bombers surrounded our vehicle.
Outside the driver side window, the leader hit the bullet proof glass with the butt of his matt black automatic, he wanted the doors opened, the driver had already hit the lock release.
Two of them grabbed Jim Carlisle from the jump seat and threw him to the ground. Owen’s move to protect us was met with a crushing blow to the temple from the butt of the leader’s automatic, he crumpled to his knees. I listened to the muffled screams of Alex as the chloroform rag was jammed against her face. This was no random kidnapping, these men were professionals, a trained hit team. They knew what they were doing, their intended victim was not Owen or me, it was our daughter.
The ambulances and fire trucks arrived first, ahead of the police, there was pandemonium with people shouting and pointing and crying. Owen was back on his feet, waving off the EMT personnel. He directed them to the security guard laying face down on the pavement, he didn’t need an EMT, he needed a coroner.
We were all dazed, Jim Carlisle held his head, the percussion had ruptured both ear drums, Owen and I were ok if not shaken, the gash on the side of his head looked worse than it was.
I ran into his arms crying uncontrollably, why had they taken Alex why not Owen or me?
Owen held me tight, I sensed his growing awareness of what had just happened and why. He guided me to the ambulance.
Sally Wintour had not been happy about this posting. Her husband was a career Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and she supported his career but Pakistan was becoming increasingly less stable. US Drone attacks were on the rise targeting Al Qaeda leadership with increasing collateral consequences for non-combatant civilians. For every US attack there were reprisals; suicide bombings of western hotels and shopping centers and, of course, the kidnappings. US Dept. of State policy on negotiating with kidnappers was unequivocal, they would not pay ransom in any form under any circumstances, the cost was to high. In the case of kidnapping the ends, no matter how emotionally driven, would never justify the means.
Sally had considered remaining in Abu Dhabi with Alex, the UAE states were stable and prosperous and generally supportive of the US. When Owen was appointed Ambassador there during the last Bush administration we had hoped it would be permanent, living in the UAE was like Disney Land for Americans especially ones with the means to take advantage of the lifestyle. Streets were paved in gold, black gold, as the pumps drove oil prices up or down depending upon the UAE economy. Moving from there to Islamabad was like a bad dream, we wondered what Owen had done to deserve it. With Barack Obama in the White House and Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State the politics of international diplomacy were on the rise. It wasn’t what you knew or how good you were it was who you knew and how political you were. My husband is one of those rare career diplomates who does his job in accordance with his oath of office without regard for his own safety and comfort, the question was whether this conviction extended to his wife and daughter?
When Michael Corbin was appointed Owen’s replacement in the UAE by President Obama in 2011 he never flinched, in his mind there had to be a good diplomatic reason for the switch, the notion of politics never occurred to him. When you’re a career diplomat in the Foreign Service appointments are supposed to be apolitical, and it was true that Corbin had a distinguished record including his appointment to Syria by Republican President Bush but his being a man of color struck me as being more than a coincidental.
We arrived in Islamabad with full diplomatic immunity meaning no customs inspections or document checks, Owen would present his credentials to President Asif Ali Zardari. In Pakistan the President is a figurehead, his office is largely ceremonial limited to diplomatic functions. The real power here rests with the Prime Minister, Yousef Raza Gilani, he controlled the military, security forces and the nuclear weapons stockpile since his election in 2008. Owen was replacing Cameron Munter who had served as our ambassador since 2010 but was politically toxic due to his publicly expressed views on US policy that clashed with the Obama administration. I suppose one point of view would be that the President and State Department showed confidence in Owen by appointing him to such a politically sensitive region of the world but for me and Alex it was more like incarceration than promotion.
Al Qaeda was on the move in the western provinces near the Afghan border, US Drone search & destroy missions were increasingly effective requiring movement on the ground from one cave to another over hostile geography. In some cases, combatants would find safe haven near Kandahar, the nerve center of al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and not currently part of the Drone mission.
Owen was noncommittal on the use of Drones, it was US policy and his job was to support and defend American interests in Pakistan regardless of his personal views on an issue. Other Foreign Service Officers, especially those at the Ambassador level, sometimes failed to remember their oath and succumbed to local pressure. Owen was not one of those, his 21 years of service with a spotless record spoke to his loyalty, at least up to now.
This is our story.
The flight from Abu Dhabi was crowded but Air Emirates business class was pure luxury. Accumulating and using frequent flyer miles was a recent state department concession as was permission to fly foreign carriers when US airlines weren’t available. These extra benefits for expat families were welcomed by the diplomatic community worldwide.
Benazir Bhutto International Airport was renamed in 2008 after her assassination, a tribute to the struggling efforts of Muslim women trying to make a difference in a culture determined to deny their equality with men. The airport serves the capital city of Islamabad and often hosts the arrival of foreign dignitaries. The diplomats line was empty, we knew from experience that wearing US Embassy passes around our neck would expedite arrival and move us quickly to baggage claim. The plane had been crowded with Pakistanis returning from Dubai with those ubiquitous oversized shopping bags, the UAE was a shopping center for the entire middle east with frequent low cost flights and discounted hotel rooms on the weekends.
We were greeted by the US Charge’ D’affaires, Jim Carlisle, he’d been serving as interim Ambassador since Munter left. Owen was relieving Cameron Munter, the last US Ambassador to Pakistan who resigned under a cloud having questioned official US policy on drone attacks. An ambassador serves at the pleasure of the President, when local pressure compromises his loyalty to the US the President is left with no choice but to request his resignation, diplomatic speak for “you’re fired”.
Three Ford Expedition’s were parked at the curb in the no parking zone. Diplomatic license plates guaranteed immunity from local traffic laws and were a status symbol for the drivers who everyone knew were recruited for their driving skills and knowledge of the city. I wondered what Ford had done to displace Chevrolet Suburban’s as embassy vehicles of choice?
It was early morning, the city was waking up as government bureaucrats prepared for another mindless day of paper shuffling and endless meetings. This was our first visit to Pakistan and like all new postings the sights and sounds of the city were intoxicating. I tried pointing out interesting scenes to Alex but for a sixteen-year-old not happy about her move and leaving friends in Abu Dhabi it was difficult, the frown on her face seemed carved in stone.
The windows of the SUV were tinted so we could see out but pedestrians could not see in. As we entered the traffic round-about and spun out on a surface road we just missed hitting a truck decorated in the most outrageous fashion. Graffiti is endemic to US cities but here they took the art form to a new level. The vehicles were covered from bumper to bumper with elaborate colors and designs accented with tassels and religious symbols. These buses and trucks were like nothing I’d ever seen, this was not protest art, this was cultural expression and it was wonderful. I wanted to stop for pictures, even Alex was distracted from her funk and smiled at this unique art-form, the security man shook his head, it was not safe to stop and get out of the vehicle in the middle of town.
The US Ambassador’s residence in Islamabad looked more like a fortress than a home. It was a formidable multi storied structure with a 12-foot wall enclosing a court yard topped with razor wire and shards of broken glass. The gate was heavy metal with a small peep hole and a pedestrian door cut to one side. The security detail was heavily armed and on duty 24 hours a day with rotating shifts.
Families with money in Pakistan lived this way, usually several generations under the same roof each with their own apartment on upper floors with common rooms, cooking, dining and socializing on the ground floor.
Like all US Ambassadors we had household staff and security personnel recruited for their loyalty and discretion. As the gates swung open and we entered the courtyard there were five people standing in front of the main house, three women in traditional Hijab headdress, two men dressed in black pants and white shirts. Three out-buildings were grouped around the courtyard; a guard house adjacent to the gate, a large garage or perhaps storage facility and separate living quarters for the staff. The guard house was large with a small brazier for heating tea and sleeping cots for the 24 hour rotating security.
A third man stood to the side not wanting to be included as household staff. He was tall and muscular with a large black mustache and chiseled features. He wore designer jeans, a turban and a baseball jacket in spite of the heat. The jacket was emblazoned with the iconic NY Yankees logo and barely covered the bulge in the center of his back near the waist. This had to be Mustafa, the name meant Warrior of Islam, a fitting description for the man responsible for Alex’s security. He was born and raised on the streets of Karachi but moved with his parents to New York when he was 17. Now a naturalized citizen of the US with dual passport he’s a trained Navy Seal assigned to the State Department for special operations, guarding our daughter was a special operation. The State Department dossier covered his background in detail but the passport photos they included hardly did him justice. His name was Mustafa Abisali and he was beautiful.
I’m a 42-year-old woman who has spent her adult life living and working in the third world. People in the State Department don’t approve of the term Third World, seems demeaning somehow but for me it describes a world that is far removed from my own, one not part of the industrialized nations of the world. The term was coined during the cold war to describe nations not part of NATO or the Communist Bloc but has evolved to include most economically depressed countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Pakistan is “third world” and not moving in the right direction.
I’m from the Midwest, a small town in Ohio and graduated near the top of my class from neighboring Indiana University. During a year in the Peace Corp my life changed in two significant ways. One, I met the man I was to marry, Owen Wintour, a foreign relations major from IU and two I decided on a career in the developing world.
Owen is a good father to Alex and a fine Ambassador with a carefully honed sense of loyalty to his oath of office. I love him and respect him but our intimacy has evaporated in recent years as his career expanded and his reputation for being a “company man” spread. Owen was having an affair, not with another woman, but with “Foggy Bottom”, that wonderful euphemism for Washington, DC. This affair was affecting our marriage as much if not more than an office secretary. There were muffled phone calls, locked screen smart phones and tablets, extended time at the office and frequent travel. When State said jump Owen’s response was always “how high”. Initially I accepted this as part of the job but as years went by and Owen’s preoccupation with work grew the toll on our marriage was devastating. I loved Owen but I was lonely and tired of raising Alex and managing our personal life alone, without a partner.
Mustafa was the kind of man you couldn’t ignore, he had swarthy good looks and an air of danger about him that made you feel vulnerable in his presence. I felt that Alex would be safe in his care and, I had to admit, so would I. Never having been unfaithful to Owen nor, I’m certain, he to me I felt guilty in this man’s presence. I was feeling things, forbidden things, that needed to be ignored.
Alex was a typical American teenager with the usual inclinations for stepping outside parental bounds only in our case the bounds extended all the way to the White House. There were presidential directives that set guidelines and standards of behavior for all state department personnel serving in a foreign country this included their children. Mustafa had his work cut out for him, I wondered if he’d have the patience to deal with a 16-year-old.
“Is that my handler Mom” Alex exclaimed excitedly, hadn’t seen her perk up like this since we left Abu Dhabi. “Please Alex, must you use that term, Mr. Mustafa is your security detail not your handler.” “Whatever, he sure is cute”. I bit my tongue, I might have described Mustafa many ways but cute wouldn’t have been one of them, let’s just say he was very good looking in a dark middle eastern sort of way.
The house was large, filled with overstuffed furniture and those hideous ceiling lights in the middle of electric fans. For some reason Pakistani’s didn’t like table lamps, the ceiling lights were low wattage bare bulbs screwed into opaque glass shades making everyone and everything look used.
The walls were covered with classic American Art. State had a lending program with the National Gallery and other prominent museums that enabled US Ambassadors to select American masterworks for temporary display in embassies and the Ambassador’s private residence. The program was designed to showcase our softer side and facilitate conversation during the endless receptions and private dinner parties we were expected to host for local dignitaries. In our case we had selected a group of Jamie Wyeth classics that I felt projected America’s realism and grass roots strength.
Owen would be spending several days in debriefing sessions facilitated by Jim Carlisle, the situation for the US in Pakistan was tenuous at best. Pakistani officials, unhappy with US Drone policy and other issues, would use the US Embassy as their direct link to our government for saber rattling and veiled threats in response to unwanted US policy. Owen’s job was to filter these messages and forward as appropriate to Washington. His chain of command started with the Secretary Of State but in extreme circumstances he could go over the Secretary’s head direct to the office of the President. Knowledge of this access enhanced Owen’s stature among local officials but it was rarely if ever used. Owen was a company man through and through and for him the chain-of-command was sacred, to break it would require extraordinary circumstances.
I wanted to interview Mustafa before he assumed his duties as Alex’s guardian, I asked Owen to join me, I wasn’t sure I could manage my emotions in his presence alone.
We met in the living room, there was the traditional tea and assorted sweets. Here they would serve small dishes of fruit preserves, similar to our jams back in the states, each guest had a small plate and tiny spoon, we helped ourselves to the preserves and the ubiquitous cookies that were always available.
Mustafa was dressed as we had seen him on our arrival, pressed designer jeans, a white shirt and Converse sneakers. His turban was a different color, seemed men here wore them as a fashion, as much as cultural, accessory. His presence dominated the room.
Owen spoke first; “so, Mustafa, tell us how you were selected for this duty?”
His voice was low with a slight but unmistakable British accent, the Brits had controlled India as a colony for decades prior to the turnover and Pakistan’s separation along Hindu and Muslim lines, Abisali’s parents no doubt spoke perfect English with a British dialect.
“As you have seen from my dossier, I’m a US Seal, trained in counterintelligence and attached to the State Department for special operations. I’ve served in several embassies around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan. Protecting your daughter would normally fall to a CIA or FBI agent but is this case since it’s Pakistan and our relations here are strained the dept. felt someone with deep local knowledge and advanced combat training would be best.”
I jerked my head towards Owen at the mention of “combat training” what could he possibly mean by that? Pakistan was, after all, still a US ally in spite of our strained relations and the influence of the Al Queada and the Taliban terrorists. Owen read my mind and interrupted Mustafa with the question I had on the tip of my tongue.
“You mention combat training Mustafa, could you elaborate on that, explain why that was a criteria for your selection?”
“Mrs Wintour, may I call you Sally?”
My heart skipped a beat, how could this polite request turn into something physical without my permission. Owen looked at me quizzically, even he must have recognized the raw sex appeal of this man. He didn’t ask Owen the same question, he knew his place in the Embassy pecking order and would never assume that level of familiarity with a full Ambassador nor would Owen grant it. My answer was crisp and business like.
“Of course Mustafa, we’re all here as friends.”
He continued in a measured tone, answering my question with an air of authority only a man experienced in combat could muster.
“Sally, this is Pakistan, a very dangerous place. While officially they maintain an aura of respectability in world affairs and accept the US as friends and allies the reality is quite different. The government is losing the support of the people and jihadists are gaining a foothold in the mosques. The political situation here is fragile and while the Prime Minister and his Generals control the military and the nuclear stockpile the jihadists are gaining control of the hearts and minds of the people and the people are agitating for change. The Pakistani police and internal security cannot be held responsible for the safety of you and your family. Is this a combat zone, not yet, but my job is to maintain a circle of security around your daughter to make sure it doesn’t become one, at least not for her. Has this answered your question?”
“Yes and no Mustafa, I need to better understand the day to day dangers Alex will be facing here as an American teenager with a prominent Father. She’ll be attending the American School under supervision of embassy personnel, that facility is some distance from the embassy compound. Here we have shopping, movie theaters, restaurants and sports facilities. We don’t call it the Green Zone as in Baghdad but it has a safety net that protects American citizens and their families.”
“I don’t want to be an alarmist Sally…”
Why does the mention of my name by this strong man cause me to flinch, he is in control of this discussion and if truth be known of me, at least emotionally, it scares me.
“In reality there is smoldering resentment against the US and most western powers, for the moment it remains just below the surface but could erupt into demonstrations and violence at anytime.”
Owen was silent during this exchange, he was listening intently, I could see the wheels turning inside his head. Why, he was wondering, had he accepted this posting and put his family in harms way? The answer of course was that we had signed on for this when we joined the foreign service, the luxury embassies in London and Paris were reserved for heavy donors to the President’s election campaign while trouble spots in the third world were reserved for career diplomats with years of training and experience. Like a trained fighter pilot the American people have a substantial investment in their foreign service professionals, Owen’s FSO performance reviews were exceptional, he was one of the best and brightest, his performance as a husband and lover were not part of his service record.
Owen crossed his legs, a nervous response when he was ready to challenge someone or something, I had seen it often during diplomatic dinners when the table conversation turned political.
There was a slight clearing of the throat and an adjustment on his chair as Owen responded.
“Your observations are interesting Mustafa, we had thorough briefings on the political situation here prior to our arrival”
I could sense where Owen was going, he would challenge Abisali’s assertions in an effort to reassure me that conditions in Pakistan were not as bad as he suggests.
“We know jihadists are becoming bolder and challenging the government with renewed intensity. We also know the Mosques are favored venues for stirring up trouble with sophistic logic from the Koran. The people are restless, they want change, there is rampant unemployment, especially among the youth and public services are decrepit with no improvement in sight. The USAID program here is heavily funded and we are seeing degrees of improvement which should mitigate some of the unrest.”
Mustafa stared at Owen, his look was serious and his voice rumbled from the depths of his throat.
“With all due respect Mr. Ambassador,”
Owen did not suggest he address him by name.
“May I speak freely?”
“Of course Mustafa, we’re off the record here”
“USAID in Pakistan is a useless waste of the American taxpayer’s money. Time after time we see AID contractors enter the country with the best of intentions only to be mired down in endless paperwork and mindless forms and debriefings. The true US presence here and the one taking center stage in the minds and hearts of the people are the Drone attacks. Our efforts to garner friendship and cooperation with so-called economic development has had no effect and is looked upon as “charity” in a country that prides itself as self-sufficient. Most of the AID dollars flowing into Pakistan wind up in government hands in the form of ill-defined taxes and user fees. The people are convinced that USAID largesse is buying neutrality on the part of the government and tacit agreement to limit expansion of their nuclear weapons program. A single Drone attack along the Afghan border near Quetta will generate more publicity than all our foreign aid dollars. I, for one, agree with and support the use of Drones. I fail to see the difference between a manned fighter jet attacking suspected al Qaeda strongholds with unintended collateral damage and a pilotless Drone being directed from a cave in Montana except the security of American pilots. This is combat Mr. Ambassador and while it’s being fought on an increasingly high technology battlefield with robots and drones the end result is the same, people getting maimed and killed. My job here in Pakistan is to keep your daughter out of harms way, she is a US Ambassador’s daughter, a high value target for those wanting to compromise US interests.”
I was trying to control my breathing, never had I heard an embassy staffer describe conditions in a country with such passion and insight. Mustafa was not typical, he was smart and intuitive with uncommon local knowledge. His combat skills and Seal training were an added dimension to his multi faceted background, this man was special and not one to take fools lightly including Ambassadors. Alex would be in good hands, I was sure of that, I was less sure of my own feelings.
My marriage to Owen had grown stale. We loved and supported each other, we still functioned as a team, Owen busy with his official duties while I managed the household and mined state department benefits for expats stationed abroad. The intimacy was gone, no flirting or teasing like the early years. The sex was perfunctory, part of our conjugal obligation but no longer passionate and loving. I longed for the physical intensity we shared in college and the years before Alex was born. I’m still young, with the cravings of a woman in her forties, a woman who needs the release that sex with an experienced partner can deliver, Owen was no longer that partner. The mere sight of Mustafa and the sound of his deep masculine voice made me uncomfortable. I tried to concentrate on the discussion, but instead found myself moving against the leather stitching on the chair, wanting to touch myself.
My mind raced. Hoping my skin wasn’t flushed, I forced myself back to the conversation.
I could tell Owen was impressed by Mustafa, he cleared his throat in a typical prelude to an important statement.
“Thank you for your candor Mustafa, while I may not agree with your conclusions, especially on USAID, I do appreciate that you were born here and understand the culture and thinking far better than most embassy personnel but US policy takes a broader view incorporating regional geopolitical interests that have consequences for American security and energy”
I decided to interrupt, this conversation was interesting but not reverent to today’s agenda about the safety and security of our daughter.
“Excuse me gentlemen, but may I ask Mustafa a few questions about his strategy for securing Alex’s safety during our mission here.”
Owen looked a bit sheepish, he was normally a stickler for meeting protocol and not allowing the discussion to wander off point.
He looked at me with a slight grin, nodded his approval of my comment and returned his gaze to Mustafa for affirmation.
“Of course Mrs…, I mean Sally, I’m happy to describe our daily routine. This will not be a typical diplomatic posting; the bad guys have infiltrated every level of Pakistani society from the humble vendor on the street corner to the halls of government. We don’t know, for sure, who our friends are including trusted embassy employees. Here it’s about family and religion either of which can turn an employee from friend to enemy. Alex needs to be careful about making friends among local teenagers, on the streets of Islamabad or Karachi a local sixteen year old is as dangerous as an adult twice their age. Often the curriers for suicide missions are young women who have been conditioned by years of indoctrination in the mosques. We have proven procedures for insuring the safety of embassy personnel and those will be followed but in Alex’s case, due to her age and school requirements, there will be enhancements including my chaperoning. If Alex is not within the confines of this house or the embassy compound I will be with here every minute. Another naturalized US citizen, a Pakistani by birth, will be our driver and will take Alex to the American school. We’ll remain on school property in constant contact, Alex will have a customized smartphone configured for our encrypted embassy network including a hot button with direct 24 hour access to me.”
I was feeling better about our situation with every word he spoke, this man was like none other I had met especially within the diplomatic corps where people tended towards the mundane with a preoccupation for their own survival. How refreshing to meet someone who stood his ground defending his responsibility and the means for meeting it as opposed to the more typical bureaucrat standing on shifting sand defending nothing but their own skin. As our meeting adjourned and we shook hands, he held mine a second or two longer than was necessary, my heart jumped.
Being the wife of a diplomat, especially an Ambassador, puts you in a rarified atmosphere. It’s not about the money you have, $160,000 per year hardly qualifies as “executive pay”, it’s about the prestige, the power of being the sole representative of the most powerful country on earth with direct access to the US Secretary of State or even the President if necessary. It’s about having oversight responsibility for millions of dollars in foreign aid through USAID and the US Millennium Challenge programs. An American Ambassador is held accountable if not responsible, for the US presence in a country including the military, peace corps, NGO’s, contractors and tourists. With our military commitment to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan this responsibility looms larger than life and you become a target for anyone opposed to Western thought. In the central Asian republics along the old silk route from the Caucasus to China the Islamic extremists are forming Al Qaeda cells intent on undermining American interests and doing so with impunity. US embassy’s and government officials and their families are prime targets.
This is the downside, the upside is support by the US government with first class housing, amenities and security. Embassy compounds and personal residences appear normal and non-threatening on the outside but the reality is quite different. The buildings are state-of-the-art security installations with encrypted satellite communications, bombproof exteriors and plain clothes security personnel on duty 24 hours a day to augment the military presence. The world’s diplomatic corps, not just the US, were stunned by the Benghazi attack, there was obviously a breakdown in security measures, Western embassies and consulates worldwide have beefed up their response procedures when under attack.
I worried about Alex, can this man Mustafa, this Americanized Pakistani with all his skill and commitment keep her out of harms way? Alex is a clever teenager, intent on her own way of doing things, like all sixteen year olds she feels invincible and might rebel against Mustafa’s suffocating presence, I’m not sure her mother will.