No country for envoys: Chopper crash shows why Pakistan is a diplomat’s nightmare


Flame and smoke rise from the site where a Pakistani military helicopter crashed in the northern area of Gilgit, killing seven people including the Norwegian and Philippine envoys. (AFP Photo)

Pakistan isn’t exactly the most fortuitous of postings for envoys and diplomats, with the Norwegian and Filipino ambassadors joining the list of those who have died in the line of duty.

Norwegian ambassador Leif Larsen, Filipino ambassador Domingo Lucenario and the wives of the envoys of Malaysia and Indonesia were killed when a Mi-17 helicopter of the Pakistani military crashed in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region on Friday.

Pakistan’s foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said the helicopter crashed after its engine failed. However, the Pakistani Taliban said they had shot it down with a shoulder-fired missile though there is little evidence so far to back up their claim.

Nearly three decades earlier, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, died along with President Zia-ul-Haq and several top Pakistan military officers when a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft crashed in the Punjab province in mysterious circumstances.

The cause of the crash was never officially established though various theories have suggested that the aircraft was brought down by explosives or poison gas hidden in a case of mangoes that was loaded into the C-130 shortly before it took off.

John Gunther Dean, who was then the US envoy to India, suspected that Israeli agents might have been involved in the crash and tried to bring this to the notice of the administration in Washington. He was declared him mentally unfit and resigned from the foreign service soon after.

In 2008, the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, Ivo Zdarek, was killed after a suicide bomber rammed a truck loaded with 600 kg of explosives into the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Besides the envoy, several Americans were among the nearly 60 people who died in the attack.

Zdarek, who was living in the hotel while his residence was being refurbished, survived the explosion and was trapped while helping others escape. He made several calls from his mobile phone, asking to be rescued, but help could not reach him.

Two days after the bombing of the Marriott, Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate Abdul Khaliq Farahi was kidnapped and his driver shot dead in Peshawar. He was freed nearly two years later following negotiations between his abductors and the Afghan government.

Later in 2008, top Iranian diplomat Heshmatollah Attarzadeh was kidnapped by militants in Peshawar. He was rescued during an operation mounted by Iranian intelligence agents in early 2010.