The article below from Pakistan’s Daily Times is an interesting sign of how domestic security efforts may be perceived abroad:

US ‘geniuses’ going berserk with ‘homeland security’

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: The profiling of Pakistanis at US airports and other points of entry has reached a point where Pakistani ambassador to the US Jehangir Karamat has felt it necessary to advise his countrymen that they should only visit America “if they absolutely have to”.

Some recent cases will reveal the ridiculous limits to which American security fears have been carried.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Riaz H Khokhar, who recently retired as foreign secretary, was one of those subjected to what can only be described as humiliating treatment.

Khokhar, who was invited by the Kashmiri-American Council to speak at its July 14 conference in Washington, was taken aside to a separate room upon arrival for investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.

He was made to wait for 40 minutes and then asked some strange questions. One of the questions was, “Why have you visited Saudi Arabia so many times?” The former foreign secretary’s answer that such travel had been necessitated by the nature of his official duties was received with a grunt, indicating either incomprehension or disbelief.

Other questions asked of him were equally odd. The fact that Khokhar, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished career diplomats, had served as his country’s ambassador to India, China and the United States itself did not appear to be good enough for the “geniuses” working for the Department of Homeland Security.

The new chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines, Tariq Kirmani, who paid an official visit to the United States last month, was given a similar reception. It took some time before his credentials were found in order by the Homeland Security and immigration officials, who appeared reluctant to put a stamp on his passport and let him go.

Earlier this summer, when former ambassador to Washington and former federal minister Syed Abida Hussain and her husband, former federal minister and speaker of the National Assembly, Syed Fakhar Imam, arrived in this country, it took Syeda Abida Hussain close to two hours to be cleared.

She was taken to a separate room and questioned. That she had been Pakistan’s ambassador to the US was considered of no consequence. Exasperated, she said she would be quite happy to be sent back. When she asked what she had done to deserve such special attention, she was told that her name triggered another name that was on some list. That name, it turned out, was Syed Hussain. Her pointing out that it was the name of a man and, further that she prefixed her name with Syeda, not Syed, did not shorten her ordeal.

Former Pakistani interim prime minister, Moeen Qureshi, who until a year ago, was travelling quite frequently outside the country, being chairman and chief executive of Emerging Markets Inc was always being asked why he travelled so much. A couple of years ago, a prominent Pakistani journalist who was here on a fellowship was picked up because he had failed to register himself with the immigration authorities within a certain period after arrival.

After some running around by his US hosts, he was freed. One of them said later that in the past there had been occasions when he (the host) had urged the Pakistani government to free someone taken in without due cause. He could never imagine that such a thing could happen in his own country.

One travel agent told this correspondent that suspicion of Pakistanis had reached a point wherein a Pakistani passenger was more likely to be seated at the back of the aircraft than in the front or middle sections. A frequent traveller said that the baggage of many Pakistanis who were departing the United States was searched after it had been checked in.

All baggage has to be pre-screened, a duty assigned to the passenger. This correspondent can attest from his own experience that the last five times in the past two years he has landed at a US port from a trip abroad, he has without exception been taken to a separate room and made to wait for up to 40 minutes before being cleared. Twice when returning from Canada, he has been grilled at the Canadian port. US immigration formalities, when flying from Canada are completed at the Canadian end.

Special scrutiny rooms have been set up at every major airport in the US. The passenger whose clearance has been held back is escorted by an immigration agent to one of these rooms where his passport is handed over to one of the officers who along with five or six of his colleagues sits on a raised platform, behind plexiglass, from where he can scrutinise passengers sitting down below. While the questioning can be polite or gruff, depending on the agent, the experience is humiliating. All the five times this correspondent has been subjected to “special attention”, no reason has been given, despite polite efforts on his part to find out why.

Pakistanis back home who apply for a visitor’s visa for the United States are, on average, obliged to wait for up to three months before being granted one. In many cases, it is refused without any reason being assigned. Once a visa has been refused, the passport is as good as useless as far as travel to the US is concerned.

Some of the applicants have had humiliating experiences at the US embassy in Islamabad. The unhappy experiences of Dr Javed Iqbal and his wife, former Justice Mrs Nasira Iqbal, former deputy chief of staff of the Pakistan Army Lt Gen Mohammad Yousuf and former chief of the Pakistan Navy Admiral Fasih Bokhari are too well known to be related here. Passengers boarding a US airline bound for the United States from points outside the country are subjected to the most thorough searches and scrutiny. Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular are the recipients of the ‘special attention’.

Canadians who used to require no visa or passport to enter the United States no longer enjoy that facility. Several Canadians of Pakistani origin, who travel to a neighbouring US town for work or business every day or every other day, have complained that each time they enter the US, they are subjected to special scrutiny. Some of them have had to wait as long as three hours.

One Canadian who originally came from Pakistan and had lived in Canada for 30 years was told by a US border agent that no matter how long he had been a Canadian citizen, since he was born in Pakistan, for all intents and purposes he was a Pakistani. Many Pakistani-Canadians have told this correspondent that only the direst emergency would induce them to travel to the United States since they are not willing to suffer humiliation.

Many Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans who have had such experiences are of the view that since all consular agreements between sovereign states are bilateral, Americans arriving at Pakistani airports should be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny to which Pakistanis and Americans of Pakistani origin are subjected to in the United States these days. “Why should we show courtesy to those who show none to us?” one Pakistani, who has been grilled more than once on arrival by US officials, asked.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the London bombings, some people here have openly called for ethnic or racial profiling. According to a recent newspaper commentator, “So far the idea has been advanced most forcefully by columnists, academics and local politicians in New York City, where anti-terror precautions including random searches of subway passengers’ bags were instituted after the London attacks. Bush administration officials resist the notion – which is against federal policy – but even the staunchest opponents of profiling admit the idea will gain force if Islamic extremists begin new attacks.”

New York assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat, has plans to introduce a bill to allow police to “zero in” on Middle Easterners when authorities conduct terrorism-prevention searches in subways o
r other locally controlled systems. New York city authorities have randomly searched subway riders’ bags and packages without regard to ethnicity or race. Other cities have not followed New York’s lead.

Ultra conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently wrote that searchers should home in on young Islamic men. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is not in agreement with the suggestion, saying, “I think we want to focus on behaviour. It’s behaviour which is the best test of someone’s intentions.” Profiling, it has been pointed out, is against current federal policy and might run afoul of federal court decisions that bar racial profiling, except where it advances a “compelling governmental interest,” as ruled by the US Supreme Court.

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