Diplomatic Life Is More Than Tea Parties

Scott Rauland still remembers the time in Pakistan when his doorbell began buzzing in the middle of the night.

Rauland, a foreign service officer, had been working at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, for months, and his wife and children had finally arrived to join him days before.

Just when his life began to feel stable again, a security guard arrived at his front door with the news that his employer, the State Department, had ordered all non-emergency embassy personnel and their dependents to leave Pakistan.

It was Sunday night, Aug. 15, 1998. Under the rules of the ordered departure, they had a little more than 24 hours to prepare for an undetermined length of time away from home. Rauland, his family and colleagues left at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Three days later, 20 Tomahawk missiles slammed into a suspected terrorist training camp in neighboring Afghanistan, in response to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa just two weeks before.

Emergency Situation

Life in the foreign service, Rauland told ABCNEWS from his current post in Quito, Ecuador, is more than just "endless receptions of tea and cookies."

At the moment, hundreds of Americans in India, just across the border from where Rauland once worked, are facing a crisis similar to the one he faced four years ago.

Last week, the State Department implemented an authorized departure, advising all nonessential diplomatic personnel to leave India in light of the escalating hostilities between India and its nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan.

There are roughly 600 U.S. diplomatic workers and dependents in India.

In Pakistan, all nonessential diplomatic personnel have been gone for months. On March 22, the State Department implemented an ordered departure following a terrorist attack that killed four people, including two Americans.

An ordered departure is more urgent than an authorized departure. Ordered departures mean diplomatic personnel do not have a choice to stay or leave.

An Orderly Exit

In either case, evacuations are seldom as chaotic and desperate as Hollywood sometimes portrays them. There are no disheveled diplomats pulling hastily packed suitcases onto crowded helicopters as natives pound at the gates, according to Faye Barnes, director of the State Department Family Liaison Office.

"People don't necessarily come out on one fell swoop," she said. Some may be on vacation or leave, and still others simply change their posts earlier than expected.

In fact, most evacuations use commercial flights — including the one in India. "We plan ahead and try to avoid bringing everyone out on chartered air while guns are going off," Barnes said.

However, evacuations are becoming increasingly common. According to the Crisis Management Team at the Foreign Service Institute, there were 176 evacuations of U.S. missions from 1998 to Sept. 30, 2001.

Of that number, only 20 were military-assisted, and 15 of them ended in post closures.

Evacuations are also getting more unpredictable. Two-thirds of the posts where departures were ordered were rated low or medium threat before the evacuation orders.

"Who in a million years would have guessed we would be pulling people out of India?" Barnes said. "It's a country where we have amenable relations, a former British colony."

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