American Aid Worker Gunned Down in Pakistan

Stephen Vance was fatally shot by gunmen in Peshawar.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 12, 2008 — -- He was, as a Pakistani friend called him, "just like us," an American who dressed like the natives, declined Western-style security details and sent his children to local schools.

Stephen Vance was also the head of an American-funded consortium trying desperately -- and quietly -- to help rebuild Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas, the volatile districts along the border with Afghanistan where the Taliban are at their strongest.

This morning as he went to work in Peshawar, police say, the father of five and his driver were shot dead by masked gunmen in one of the city's most upscale neighborhoods.

It is the latest incident targeting not only Americans but anyone employed by a nongovernmental organization who lives and works in the largest city in Pakistan's northwest.

"He was a simple and a very straight-forward person. He was so straight forward that sometimes people thought he was rude, but he was not," said someone who knew Vance, refusing to be identified. "He loved his family, he was a family man. He liked and took care of his local fellow workers."

One colleague said today: "He was a really committed individual. And he was willing to embrace the risks associated [with] living in Peshawar, in that he had his wife and family there."

Vance was one of the few foreigners who embedded himself into the chaotic life of Peshawar. His wife, his mother-in-law and his whole family lived with him; he was one of few Americans in the city who didn't live alone.

His death is a blow to the Western and local groups working to help create jobs, schools and businesses in the tribal areas. U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden has argued that the central front of the war on terror is on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and that "the outcome of that battle is going to be determined less by bullets than by dollars and determination."

The United States has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars for rebuilding those tribal districts, but some of the money has been caught up by bureaucracy and some has been held back because it is so dangerous to work there.

The danger has spread to Peshawar, which lies on the border of the tribal districts.

In April, Shakir Ishaq, the Pakistani CEO of Basic Education for Afghan Refugees, or BEFAR, was kidnapped in Peshawar. He has not been seen since.

The incoming consul general of Afghanistan was kidnapped last month in broad daylight and has also not been found.

And in September, Lynne Tracy, the principal officer in the U.S. Peshawar consulate, survived a barrage of bullets when the driver of her bulletproof car escaped the attack by running over a rickshaw.

Vance's killing -- and his position as head of a consortium of groups helping to develop the tribal areas -- may push NGOs to reevaluate their operations.

"Things have become more targeted," one colleague said of the security threats in Peshawar. "There is now specific targeting of expats. And that has much more of an effect on the expat community than the random bombings. Because you could get used to those; it's very rare to be in the wrong place in the wrong time. But if you get targeted, that's it. We're in no capacity to thwart a targeted attack."

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gates of Peshawar's sports stadium, killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen.

But it is the kidnappings and the assassinations that create the most fear. These days, being associated with Americans is to invite being targeted, humanitarian workers say. Nobody interviewed for this article would identify themselves.

"What are you going to do? You have to do the work," said one western NGO worker. "There's a lot of need. It can be met other ways, but we have expertise. And we want to be able to use that expertise."

Vance, like many others, was trying to do that. As one colleague said today, "He believed in bringing a positive change, and he never believed he would be harmed."