Lahore City Risk Report - Map Overview

Political

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

Located in the Punjab district of Pakistan, Lahore is the country’s second largest city and former capital city. The city is one of the wealthiest in the country with an estimated annual GDP of USD 58 billion. As a result of this economic power, Lahore is the historic and cultural centre of Punjab and Pakistan as a whole.

Pakistan is a federal democracy with power centred with Prime minister Imran Khan in Islamabad. The reality is somewhat different however as politics in the country is a highly complex and messy affair with the national leadership not having total control of the political process and some remote areas of the country, no control at all. This gives local and regional politicians large amounts of power.

The political landscape is further complicated by the role of the military in the country. The armed forces exert an extremely large influence in the country and have staged coups several times in the countries history in order to install senior military leaders at the head of the government, ostensibly to regain ‘control’ during times of crisis.

Political violence in Lahore is relatively common and during election times protests can often result in deaths and serious injuries. Protests are often spontaneous and likely to have religious extremist elements in their ranks. As such they should be considered extremely high risk and avoided at all costs.

The presence of large numbers of Islamic extremists in the country also makes the political situation more challenging. For many years the government of Pakistan has had to perform a delicate balancing act between modernism and appeasing the conservative and violent Islamist elements in the country.

Corruption is a widespread issue throughout the country and Lahore is no exception. Accusations of electoral fraud, bribery and political favours are numerous, and several high-ranking politicians have been convicted of corruption in recent years despite several high-profile anti-corruption drives.

Operational

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

Lahore is a densely populated city with a semi-arid climate and as such it suffers from extreme weather. Temperatures peak around June-July and can reach highs of 47 degrees centigrade with humidity at almost 100%. These high temperatures coincide with the annual monsoon rains which bring severe disruption the city with an average of 8 inches of rain falling in Jun/Jul. During the winter months (Dec-Jan) temperatures can drop as low as -3 degrees.

As a result of these extremes of weather inhabitants of the city are at risk of heat illness, cold weather injuries and water born diseases. Malaria, Dengue and Chikungunga are all present and visitors should take precautions against these diseases. The city also suffers from problems with pollution and poor air quality. During hot dry weather this can become a chronic health problem and those with respiratory issues should take precautions to mitigate this risk.
Medical provision in Lahore is mixed. Public hospitals tend to be poor and often present serious risks of infection to users. There are however numerous private hospitals which offer very good and modern healthcare services. It is therefore important that private medical insurance is obtained.

Pakistan is a very conservative Islamic state and as such religious sensitivities are high. Any criticism of Islam is not only illegal but will very likely result in severe reaction from people. There have been numerous cases of people being killed by angry mobs after simply being accused of such behaviour. It is recommended that conversations about religion are therefore completely avoided. The eating of pork is also illegal in the country and anyone found in possession can expect to face heavy penalties. Alcohol is available in most large hotels but is illegal for Pakistani Muslims to consume and only available to visitors.

Females in the country are not theoretically prohibited from fully partaking in society and the country has previously had a female leader in Benazir Bhutto. However, the reality is that only women from middle, and upper-class families are truly able to exert these freedoms. For many others cultural norms mean they are somewhat controlled y the male members of their families. Females visiting the country should be mindful to respect local customs and should avoid unwanted attention by dressing modestly. There is no requirement to wear a headscarf, but many visitors choose to do so in order to reduce attention on themselves. Homosexuality is illegal and culturally unacceptable throughout the country, therefore sexuality should not be discussed or displayed openly. This also goes for displays of affection between same sex couples.

Lahore has a thriving food scene and food markets are common. Food hygiene standards are poor, and the risk of contracting food poisoning is high so caution should be exercised when buying food from vendors or avoided altogether. Tap water is not safe to drink and bottled water should always be used. Alcohol is illegal for consumption by Muslim Pakistani’s. There is a vast black market for non-Muslims looking to purchase alcohol in the city. Many high-end hotels (such as the Avari Hotel, Holiday Inn, Pearl Continental Hotel and Ambassador Hotel) do carry the correct license (known as L2) and are able to sell alcohol. The Allama Iqbal International Airport is set to open a duty-free shop which will sell alcohol to non-Muslim Pakistani citizens and non-Muslim foreigners.

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Security

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

Security in Lahore can be an issue, but need not prohibit travel. Crime rates are statistically relatively low although issues with underreporting and non-reporting of crimes combined with high levels of police corruption could be distorting these figures somewhat.

Robbery and pickpocketing are real areas of concern. Thefts will often be carried out with the threat of violence which should be taken seriously. There are also significant issues with credit card fraud and theft of data from electronic devices in city. Extra care should be taken when using ATM machines and large sums of cash should not be carried around. It is very likely that outward displays of wealth will attract unwanted attention.

Passport theft is also a serious problem in the country. European passports are highly desirable for criminals and can command high prices. Visitors should ensure that their passport is secure at all times, even in hotel rooms where safes should be used.

Police corruption is endemic in the country and it should be expected that bribes will be solicited if there is any reason to interact with the local police force. The overall quality of policing is also poor. If arrested in Lahore it is important to fully cooperate with the police and insist on access to a consular representative. Do not sign any documentation presented to you without legal counsel.

Lahore operates a ‘safe city project’ which has seen the implementation of more than 400 HD CCTV cameras protecting every corner and main highway of the city through a centralised system of AI based criminal detection. Lahore has also implemented a project known as ‘dolphin force’ which is a special forced designed to ensure overall law and order in the city. 400 police patrol on ‘heavy motorcycles’ and wear hi-tech helmets which are centrally connected to the main police HQ in Lahore.

Travel

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

Travel around the city can be a chaotic affair. There is no centralist transport management system and the government does not provide any form of information or support to travellers. The roads are generally in a poor condition and Lahore is a hugely overpopulated city with infrastructure designed for only a fraction of its current inhabitants. As a result of this overcrowding travelling around the city can be a slow and difficult process. The quality of roads is poor, as is the standard of driving and there is no integrated public transport network with the exception of an antiquated bus service. These public transportation systems have a poor safety record and there is an increased likelihood of falling victim to crime when using them.

The easiest way to travel around the city is by taxi or rickshaw. These are cheap and found all over the city. If using these services it important to agree a price up front with the driver as often they have no meters and drivers will overcharge customers who fail to negotiate prices in advance. Lone female travellers using taxis should also ensure they always sit in the back seat of the taxi as it is not usual for women to sit next to the driver. Ride hailing apps such as Careem and Uber are available in urban areas, and their use is encouraged to ensure oversight for travellers.

By far the best way to navigate the city is with a private vehicle and driver who knows the city well and can help to minimise the duration of the journey through local knowledge. It is not recommended that visitors self-drive due the poor standards of both roads and drivers.

Terrorism

RISK LEVEL: HIGH

Lahore is considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack. The city has seen multiple attacks in recent years leaving scores of dead and injured. These attacks are almost exclusively carried out by Islamic extremists tied to the Al Qaeda network and the Afghan Taliban, although the Islamic State group also have a strong presence in the country. Lahore has traditionally been a fertile recruitment ground for Jihadists and many of these groups’ members find refuge and comfort in the city.

Attacks in the city have taken many forms, from car and suicide bombing to all out armed assaults by well-trained operatives. As such it is difficult to predict the likely method of attack. There has been a distinct preference for carrying out attacks on soft targets such as English-speaking schools, churches and other Christian sites, as well as places where westerners and wealthy Pakistanis are likely to congregate. Although most at risk locations have enhanced security measures in place it should be understood that the risk of terror attack remains high across the city including within hotels. The risk of terror attack is so severe in the city that United States closed its consulate in 2013 and is yet to reopen it to the public, although it is staffed and operational.

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This version was last updated on 16 April 2019.
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