I was just minding my own business and making plans to go home to Jersey for the long weekend when I heard Pakistanis were under suspicion.
The US Department of Homeland Security has alerted six major airports in the United States to carefully monitor all travellers of Pakistani origin, including US citizens.
How exactly can one find out whether a US citizen is of Pakistani descent? Can you differentiate a Pakistani from an Indian, Iranian, or Afghan? I can’t and I am a Pakistani myself.
The order was circulated through a DHS memo, warning airports in Washington, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles to look for Pakistani travellers with suspected links to terrorists.
The action memo sent to US Customs and Border Protection officials says the suspects may be planning terrorist attacks in the United States between now and the presidential election in November. The memo asks customs officials to look for signs that indicate paramilitary training such as unusual rope-burns, scars and bruises.
Since I was coming to Newark airport on the 2nd, I looked at my bathroom mirror carefully looking for any scars or bruises before going to the airport. Fortunately, I had none.
The June 17 memo mentions recent Pakistani raids near the Afghan border and Pakistani official sources told Dawn that the initial information about these individuals was collected in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The DHS memo indicates that the suspects were “travelling to train at terrorist camps in Pakistan,” said an official familiar with the warning.
Damn the day Pakistan became such a terrorist hotspot. Damn you, Ziaul Haq and Reagan and Brezhnev and the terrorist groups as well.
Needing more details, I googled and found the CNN version.
A two-page “action” bulletin, dated June 17, says recent intelligence from Pakistan and elsewhere indicates that people of Pakistani descent “are increasingly being identified with” extremist activities, “including supporting [and] protecting the operations of terrorist training camps in Pakistan.”
Wow, that’s news to me! (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)
In the bulletin, airport inspectors are advised to closely look at people of Pakistani descent who have taken short trips to Pakistan that were not related to family or business reasons and examine them for injuries like “rope burns … unusual bruises … [and] scars,” — injuries that may have come from training in terror camps.
Ah, at least I am safe until I visit Pakistan. Domestic travel hasn’t been a problem at all for me and I hope it won’t become one now. What nationality would you guess I belong to if you didn’t know I was Pakistani?
Obviously, the Pakistanis can’t be expected to take this well.
Pakistan Thursday decried as unwarranted a US order requiring inspectors at the major American airports to closely examine all the passengers of Pakistani descent for any terrorist links.
“We have taken up the matter with the US authorities,” Deputy Chief of Mission at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, Mohammad Sadiq, told this scribe.
He said the move could undermine the close relationship between Pakistan and the United States in the fight against terrorism. “It is not only unfortunate, but based on ignorance,” said Mr Sadiq. “Warnings like these … harm a lot to us, Pakistani Americans and the Pakistani citizens visiting United States.”
The Pakistan-specific move comes less than a month after the Bush administration declared Pakistan as a major Non-NATO ally of the United States. It is also unwarranted as the United States calls President Pervez Musharraf as a ‘key ally in the war on terrorism’.
Sarcasm aside, I have no idea how to react to this Homeland Security memo. It all depends on how it’s implemented. It could be very narrowly focussed and thus not affect any (innocent) Pakistanis or Pakistani-Americans. Or it could turn into full-scale ethnic profiling. My guess is some airport inspectors will be obnoxious (just like they were even before this memo) and others will be careful.
One thing I don’t understand is why the memo even needs to specifically mention Pakistani descent when what it seems to be on the lookout for is people coming from Pakistan with terrorist training. Is there any specific information on Pakistani terrorists, as distinct from non-Pakistanis trained in Pakistan, that this memo is based on?