SAFETY AND SECURITY
The Government of Canada may not be in a position to provide consular assistance to Canadians in parts of the country due to security concerns, in areas where the Government of Pakistan prohibits entry or where advance permission is required for entry. We strongly recommend that Canadians sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service and include personal and professional contact details.
There is a threat of terrorism in Pakistan and the security situation is fragile and unpredictable. Several terrorist groups are present and operate in Pakistan. Bombings and other terrorist attacks in early 2017 have been directed at a wide range of targets, both civilian and military, and have caused many deaths and injuries. Further attacks are likely.
Such incidents are typically attributed to extremism, ethnic divisions, sectarian strife, regional political disputes and the situation in neighbouring Afghanistan. Due to the high risk of attacks, which can vary from day to day, heightened security measures are in effect.
Terrorist attacks range from targeted killings and kidnapping, to armed assaults against heavily guarded facilities, such as Pakistani military installations. Suicide bombings and detonated improvised explosive devices are common occurrences. Some attacks involve detailed planning to maximize casualties through multiple and consecutive explosions.
Attackers frequently target Pakistani government institutions, public areas and places frequented by foreigners such as airports, hotels, markets, transportation hubs, schools, Western-style fast food outlets, restaurants, religious sites and popular trekking sites. Large cities such as Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar are particularly vulnerable to indiscriminate attacks, including bombings.
Avoid crowded places such as pedestrian promenades, shopping malls, open markets, restaurants and places of worship. Remain extremely vigilant at all times, keep a low profile and exercise caution, particularly in areas regularly frequented by foreigners. Monitor local news reports and follow the instructions of local authorities.
Civil aviation in Pakistan, including aircraft and facilities, has been the target of bombings and other attacks. Verify flight and airport operation details before travelling, and remain aware of the security situation on routes to and from airports.
There is an increased risk of attack during religious holidays and days of national significance, such as National Day (March 23), Independence Day (August 14), the Islamic month of Muharram (particularly on the day of Ashura) and the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Expect heightened security measures and associated disruptions during these periods.
Only stay in hotels that have stringent security measures in place, including metal detectors; however, no location should be considered free of risks.
Report any suspicious-looking package or behaviour immediately to the nearest authorities.
KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA PROVINCE (SEE ADVISORY)
The security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province and FATA in northwestern Pakistan is unstable. Swat, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, and the Khyber Agency are particularly volatile. While the Government of Pakistan’s security operations in FATA have improved security in both FATA and KPK, they have also resulted in a number of civilian casualties. Bombings, shootings and mass demonstrations occur regularly, resulting in deaths and injuries. Lawlessness is also a serious concern in several areas. Curfews are periodically imposed.
BORDER AREA WITH INDIA (SEE ADVISORY)
On August 5, 2019, the Government of India announced that it was changing the constitutional status of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Since then, tensions between the governments of India and Pakistan over the disputed territory have increased. Movement restrictions in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir may be put in place without notice. Monitor local news and follow the instructions of local authorities.
The level of tension between Pakistan and India is susceptible to sudden changes. You could experience difficulties when travelling between the two countries and may be subject to scrutiny if officials from either country become aware that you have recently travelled to the other.
The security situation in the Kashmir region, especially along the Line of Control (LoC), which separates India-administered Kashmir in the south from Pakistan-administered Kashmir in the north, and along the working boundary that continues south toward Sialkot, remains volatile. Since September 2016, cross-border gunfire and shelling have been occurring sporadically along the LoC.
Although the Wagah border crossing linking Lahore, Pakistan, to Amritsar, India, is regularly used by international travellers, it remains vulnerable to attack. Security measures are in place. Visitors may experience long delays.
BORDER AREAS WITH AFGHANISTAN, CHINA AND IRAN (SEE ADVISORY)
Border areas with Afghanistan, China and Iran often experience terrorist activity, smuggling and violence. With the exception of official border crossings, foreigners are prohibited from travelling in Gilgit-Baltistan within 50 kilometres of the border with Afghanistan.
The security situation in the province of Balochistan remains unstable, due to a long-standing nationalist insurgency and government counter-insurgency operations. Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is also a known route for smugglers.
There is an elevated threat of terrorist attack in Lahore. Major terrorist attacks in February and March 2017 caused deaths and injuries. On July 10, 2017, the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore issued a Security Message advising its citizens that “there is a heightened threat of a terrorist attack in Lahore. According to media reports, government buildings, tourist areas, religious sites, and hotels frequented by foreigners are particularly vulnerable, and may be the targets of a terrorist operation.” Avoid these areas. Be extremely vigilant if you must travel to Lahore.
Karachi continues to experience extremely high levels of violence, mainly due to organized crime, the political situation and government security operations. Extremist groups such as the Taliban are present in some parts of the city. Violence is common in the districts of Baldia, Gulberg, Korangi, Jamshed, Landhi, Liaquatabad, Liyari, Orangi, Saddar, Shah Faisal Colony and SITE, and could spread to other areas. Strikes and protest marches may be organized in response to violent incidents and tend to take place in central areas of Karachi. These events may cause travel disruptions throughout the city and cause additional violence.
There are extensive security measures in place at government installations in the downtown area of Islamabad known as the Red Zone, at the Best Western, Holiday Inn, Marriott and Serena hotels and at the Margalla Motel. Be particularly cautious in or around the Centaurus and Safa Gold malls; remain aware of your surroundings and do not loiter when visiting Kohsar Market. Avoid the Lal Masjid Mosque (also known as the Red Mosque) at all times.
If you decide to travel to Islamabad, you should stay in secure, guarded accommodations and maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times. Ensure that you are met at the airport by a known local contact or driver arranged through your local contact or a major hotel.
Stay away from areas where military or militant activity is taking place.
There is a very high risk to foreigners of being kidnapped throughout Pakistan. Kidnapping for ransom or political purposes is a rising phenomenon and has targeted foreigners, including diplomats, journalists and aid workers, some of whom have been killed as a result of kidnapping. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and use varied and unpredictable routes and schedules when moving from one place to another.
“Express kidnappings,” where the person is kidnapped for a couple of hours and forced to purchase goods and/or to withdraw money from an automatic banking machine, occasionally occur in Pakistan, most particularly in Karachi.
DEMONSTRATIONS AND CIVIL UNREST
Demonstrations and civil unrest occur periodically throughout the country and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Deaths, injuries and widespread violence have occurred at such events.
Demonstrations can lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.
- Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings
- Follow the advice of local authorities
- Monitor local media
- Minimize time spent in places frequented by foreigners
Violent crime is commonplace, particularly in Karachi. Armed robbery, random shootings and armed carjackings occur, mostly in major urban centres. Banditry is common in rural areas of Sindh and Punjab.
Avoid travelling after dusk, particularly in rural areas where road conditions are unsafe. Make arrangements to be met at the airport, especially if arriving after dark.
If travelling by car, keep valuable belongings out of sight, windows closed and doors locked.
Petty crime is also common. Avoid showing signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings, passports other travel documents are secure at all times. Cell phones, credit cards and passports are favourite targets.
SPIKED FOOD AND DRINKS
Never leave your food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as the items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery. Bottled drinks can reduce the risk of spiking, however, some bottled water in Pakistan may be contaminated. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources produces regular reports listing safe and unsafe bottled water brand names.
Some Canadians have been forced into marital arrangements in Pakistan and have been detained against their will and subjected to threats, intimidation and violence by family members. Family members may retain passports to prevent victims from returning to Canada. Keep digital or physical copies of your travel documents in a safe place.
If you are in Canada and you believe that you are being forced to travel overseas or to marry, you should call the police for assistance. If you are in Pakistan and you believe that you are being forced to marry, contact the High Commission of Canada to Pakistan in Islamabad. You may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre.
Canadian women may consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide.
Avoid overland travel into Sindh province unless police are notified well in advance and are able to make security arrangements.
Business deals can involve extortion and corruption, mainly at the hands of tribal and criminal groups. All business disputes, including those involving criminality, are subject to Pakistani legal proceedings. The High Commission of Canada cannot intervene on a Canadian’s behalf in a private legal matter.
TREKKING AND CLIMBING
No trekking is allowed in the closed zones located near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and near the LoC between Pakistan- and India-administered Kashmir. Only experienced trekkers should go to the northern mountains of the Himalayas, Hindukush or Karakoram. Because of their great height, the Karakoram Mountains experience heavy glaciation, particularly on the southern, more humid slopes. The extensive presence of glaciers has led to the range being referred to as the Third Pole.
The Pakistan Tourism Development Cooperation provides current trekking and mountaineering information. Only use licensed guides and tourist agencies.
If you intend on engaging in trekking activities:
- never practice these activities alone;
- always hire an experienced guide from a reputable company;
- buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation from remote areas. Confirm that the air ambulance firm contracted has a local agent in Pakistan who can ensure that local rescue teams provide the required emergency services;
- ensure that your physical condition is good enough to meet the challenges of your activity;
- ensure that you are properly equipped and well informed about weather and other conditions that may pose a hazard;
- advise a family member or friend of your itinerary, including when you expect to be back to camp;
- know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal;
- sign up for the Registration of Canadians Abroad service; and
- obtain detailed information on trekking routes or ski slopes before setting out and do not venture off marked trails or slopes.
In case of air evacuation, advance payment of the total evacuation cost is required from the insurance company before rescue teams will perform rescue operations. The Government of Canada is unable to intervene or provide (or pay for) rescue services.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
General information about foreign domestic airlines
Vehicles drive on the left. Road conditions are poor. In urban areas, roads are narrow, crowded and poorly lit, with limited signage. Outside major urban centres, roads are mostly unpaved. Many vehicles do not have proper lights for night driving. Accidents are common. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended. If an accident occurs and you feel that your safety is threatened, leave the area and report the accident to the nearest police station. Checkpoints may be set up without warning.
Travel to Hunza via the Karakoram highway only during daylight hours. Sections of the road are very narrow with precipitous drops and are sometimes partially obstructed by rock and earth slides. If travelling long distance by bus, use bus lines that provide two drivers.
Do not use public transportation or taxis.
You should also avoid travelling by train, as there are frequent rail accidents due to low safety and maintenance standards. Railways are also targets for riots and terrorist attacks.
GENERAL SAFETY INFORMATION
Carry copies of your passport and visa at all times, while ensuring that the originals are valid and readily accessible.