Osama Bin Javaid's Blog

Guilty until proven innocent: Fighting terror with discrimination

Posted in News, Pakistan Curent Affairs by osamabinjavaid on January 13, 2010

Visiting US envoy Richard Holbrooke says that he has to go through screening as well so the new US airport security measures are justified. The evidence on the ground and the outcry from Pakistan suggests otherwise.

Travelers from Pakistan are to undergo “extra security screening” according to new rules put in place by the Obama administration. With Pakistan bearing the unparalleled brunt of the war on terror and as no passenger with a Pakistani passport has directly caused panic at a US airport, the measure seems harsh. Owing to a strict and very stringent visa policy, a majority of people who visit the US from Pakistan are either businessmen or other professionals. As i called a few frequent travelers, they fear (nervous jokes) that they will be arrested when they land in the US if they spoke to someone named Osama. Adding to their ire is the fact of being screened and in long queues at home, they will be subject to humiliating behavior of US airport security staff. Students fear cavity searches and businessmen are afraid of a night in detention for even having a muslim name. A few female members of some families have changed itineraries for the US as their non-fluency in English may lead to an untoward incident, some of these women have been traveling to and from the US for decades. Human rights groups have long argued that such draconian practices are discriminatory and are against basic human rights. The latest measure brings into question the billions of tax payers money being spent on intelligence gathering and sharing. Foreign policy experts are calling it over the top. One expert says that the concerns are legitimate and understandable but more sensible ways can be devised.

Commuters fear that unless the screening is applicable across the board regardless of nationality or passport, the discriminatory measures will add to their woes. Bitter comments from Pakistani ruling circles as well as the public are already doing the rounds. With the drone saga already fueling anti US sentiments, such measures can only add to the outrage. Many in Pakistan have started asking for harsh conditions for travelers from the US. One analyst believes that Pakistan must reciprocate with making cavity searches and separate queues for flights originating from the US but later argues that due to the donor-recipient relationship, Pakistan cannot take any drastic steps. The local papers murmured of terror conspiracies being hatched in the West against Pakistan citing the Americans recently held in Sargodha, John Walker Lindh, US disregard for Pakistani sovereignty, Black Water in Pakistan etc. A senior executive said that all of this has been happening since 9/11, only it was never this explicit.

There is tenacious skepticism being faced by the US in Pakistan and Washington must refrain from aggravating the situation. The new security measures are forcing the Left wing parties such as the PPP to utter right wing words to calm the sentiments. The PM, President and the foreign office have had to join the chorus of public outrage and anger against what is being seen as anti-Pakistan policies despite the country’s best efforts to fight a US proxy war which turned into its own. After the mess of US foreign policy after the Bush era, the Obama administration faces a mammoth task of fixing the image. More thought needs to go into relationship with a key ally – and specially one with critical mass which can derail the fledgling democratic setup. A system desperately needed by Pakistan and the United States.

Perhaps policy makers ought to read Benjamin Franklin who said “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”