Visiting US envoy Richard Holbrooke, defending America’s new, stringent airport security measures, says that he too has to go through intensified screening. But the outcry from Pakistan on this issue suggests his defence won’t go down well with the public.
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. Moreover, 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.
Frequent travelers half-jokingly say that they fear arrest on landing in the US, especially if they’ve ever spoken to someone named Osama (very funny, folks). Adding to their ire is the fact that in addition to being screened and subjected to long queues at home, they will have to suffer the humiliating behaviour of US airport security staff. For their part, students fear cavity searches and businessmen are afraid of a night in detention for even having a Muslim name. Pakistani travelers fear that unless screening is applicable across the board, regardless of nationality or religion, the discriminatory measures will add to their woes of being foreign and Muslim in the West.
Human rights groups have long argued that such draconian practices are discriminatory and go against basic human rights. Foreign policy experts are calling the measures over the top. And more investment in airport security is making taxpayers question the billions that are already being spent on intelligence gathering and sharing.
In response, 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 also argues that due to the donor-recipient relationship, Pakistan cannot take any drastic steps.
The fact is, there is a tenacious scepticism being faced by the US in Pakistan, and Washington must refrain from further aggravating the situation. The new security measures are forcing left-wing parties such as the PPP to utter right-wing words to calm public sentiment. The PM, president and 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. After the mess of US foreign policy during the Bush era, the Obama administration faces a mammoth task of strengthening ties and helping America’s image abroad.
Ultimately, the US needs to give more thought to the relationship with a key ally. Perhaps policy makers in Washington ought to read Benjamin Franklin, who wrote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Do you think the new airport security measures are too stringent? If you have recently traveled to the United States, share your experience with airport security staff with Dawn.com.
Osama Bin Javaid is a Senior Duty Editor at DawnNews TV.
The following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.