The last frontier


It is a gross understatement to say that traveling as a Pakistani has become a liability in an American airport. Pakistanis and a list of several other “dangerous” nationalities face bigoted, invasive, and targeted security procedures anytime they travel to the United States as a result of the Department of Homeland Security’s measures to allegedly prevent terrorism.

It was as recent as this past September that a group of nine Pakistani diplomats publicly protested the outrageous “security” treatment against Pakistanis at a Washington DC airport. The nine Pakistani officers reneged on their invitation by the Pentagon itself to attend a defense conference in Florida after — having traveled the lengthy distance from Pakistan to Washington and transferred onto a flight to Florida — they were pulled off of their Florida flight because a comment of “I hope this is going to be our last flight” was overheard by someone on the flight and construed as terrorist activity, resulting in a two-hour long detention and interrogation session. These men were officials with written documentation of their credentials and an invitation by the Pentagon — but even that was not enough for them to avoid being treated as less than human by US airport authorities.

Considering the irrational fear tactics that are employed in all US airports against all passengers in the United States, it is an actual joy for Americans themselves to travel abroad and realise that aggressive and disrespectful airport security measures are absolutely unnecessary for ensuring travel safety. American travelers cannot believe that even in countries where terrorist attacks have actually taken place, airport security measures do not involve belittling, frightening, and insulting travelers as the measures in US airports do. For Americans, there is nothing less than a sense of liberation to experience how they are treated as human beings in foreign airports.

It is with this background in mind that new information revealed this week by an anonymous Pakistani Foreign Office official that the US government is attempting to put in place American security — with actual American security officers and American security procedures — against Pakistanis in Pakistani airports is so shocking and so reminiscent of the Orwellian ridiculousness that seemed patently humorous in his novels but is now a sad reality.

Is the Pakistani government — itself publicly known for protesting American airport security measures — actually going to allow Americans to mistreat Pakistanis in their own airports? Is the Pakistani traveling public actually going to allow this to happen, should the government that is meant to represent their rights choose to concede to such outright insult?

Pakistan is the last bastion of decency for many Pakistani travelers. In nearly every other country they travel to, they must concede to humiliation and obviously useless exaggerated security measures usually put in place by American influence — with the worst culprit by far being the US itself. It is really only in Pakistan that Pakistanis are made to feel like human beings and not criminals or terrorists when they make the decision to contribute to foreign economies by virtue of traveling to other countries. It is only in Pakistan where they are able to experience the true freedom of being presumed innocent, rather than guilty, when traveling.

In the US, Pakistani travelers and absolutely any other traveler who is in any way connected to Islam whether it is their own religion, the primary religion of their homeland, or the primary religion of the place from which they have traveled are openly, shamelessly and routinely abused by airport security and customs officials as part of a larger initiative by the US government to use airports as black zones against human rights and human dignity. There, airport officers are intentionally trained with what appear to be military interrogation standards and apparently required to avoid smiling or any other indication of humanity and instead focus on instilling a sense of fear, agitation, and helplessness in all passengers of all backgrounds, with a specific emphasis on outright disrespecting travelers with passports or backgrounds from any country in the Middle East or South Asia.

The American plan would allegedly involve trained US security officers perhaps many of them misguided Pakistani-Americans to be stationed at international airports in Pakistan, have access to passenger lists, and have permission to abuse Pakistanis in their own airports just as they do in US airports. The US governments obscure, military-style airport security misbehavior has failed in preventing even one airport terrorist plot. The tactics are proven useless on a daily basis when every other country in the world manages to avoid airport terrorism without insulting travelers.

It would be an embarrassment and a shame if Pakistan were to agree to subject its own citizens to the same useless denigration the US has failed to fully implement in other nations airports. It would be a moment of great pride and national unity if the Pakistani government chose to respect its citizens rights over the wishes of a foreign government with a track record of trampling them.

The writer is US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi