6th January, 2007

Every day the media highlights our national efforts to have Pakistan removed from the list of countries whose citizens are supposed to register with the INS of USA. We have alternately demanded, requested, asked for a favor, cited our alliance against the war against terror etc. but to no avail. Thus far, there is but a firm refusal of the United States to accede to our request. And now our Foreign minister is physically flying to the US to put in his bit. One is forced to wonder what it is that cannot be said over the phone or through diplomatic channels and what could be of such importance that it requires a personal presence.

Quite frankly it is a bit difficult to believe that a personal appearance by our foreign minister is going to force the Americans to alter their philosophy. Only a juvenile mind would believe that this change, if forthcoming, would have something to do with his powers of persuasion. Only the simplest of people can be led into believing that we are able to make the American Establishment see the “errors of their ways”. To believe that we can bring about a retraction of this decision through some very convincing logic would be naïve in the extreme.

The American Establishment does not work in such maverick ways. It does not come up with Policy that is then rescinded due to the protests of a third world nation no matter how “allied” it may be. Those who believe in this must also believe that the tooth fairy exists and that chest hair grows because hair seeds fall down from our heads! These are the minds that must also believe that if we close our eyes and bury our heads in sand, all problems actually go away.

This said, it is quite possible that the Americans actually agree to our request. Such an agreement shall however not be made on the basis of our demand, upbraiding, rebuke, protestations or pleas. This outcome can only be possible if we are able to provide them with an alternate offer, the attractiveness of which overshadows the US need to document its Pakistani immigrants, legal or otherwise. This would be in keeping with the way mature nations conduct their business. This is international diplomacy in the style of the Big Guys: national requirements and expediencies superseding any moral, ethical or cultural dictates. This is why dictatorships are recognized, tolerated, respected and pampered. And this is why these same Dictators and Kings of Kings are consigned to the wilderness or the hereafter when they outlive their usefulness. This is why hundreds of thousands can be slaughtered both figuratively and literally at the altar of National Interest.

One should therefore not be worried about the failure of our Foreign Ministers visit. This is a given. The real scary outcome for all thinking Pakistanis must be an agreement by the Americans to accept our request and remove us from the list!

Because it must be understood that only if we are able to offer something more attractive to the US in pursuit of their national objectives, would they then elect to waive the registration requirement. If the US rescinds the requirement of Pakistanis having to register with the INS, one must sit up and ponder WHY!  One must seriously consider what we would have sacrificed for this favor.

Not that sacrifices should not be made in the National Interest. But then this particular issue of registration is not one that requires any such action. Let us remove the emotional content from this problem of registration and consider it dispassionately. The facts are simple and straightforward. The American government has now decided that all Pakistani males of a certain age group, holding certain categories of visas have to present themselves to an INS official and go through a reasonably humiliating registration process. It is this plan that has irritated and upset us as a nation. Are we really justified in making this hue and cry?

This is an action taken by a nation that was savaged in an unprecedented and completely unexpected manner on 11th September, 2001. Until that time, Pakistanis were free to roam the length and breadth ofAmerica and in a completely unrestricted manner. In most cases we, as foreigners, were welcomed and assisted whenever required. After a fairly friendly and casual interview at the port of entry, we could go where we wanted, do as we pleased, mix, meet and mingle with anyone of our choosing. We could also violate all their immigration laws and continue staying there illegally without any major threat. If caught, we could seek refuge in their complex and “fair” legal system to fight our case!

While we Pakistanis could do so in the US of A, an American visiting Pakistan was required to register with the Police Department within 48 hours of arrival! He/she could not overstay the permitted period and, if this requirement was violated, (s)he was liable to be arrested and imprisoned on departure. Almost invariably this neglect would be interpreted as having malicious intent; spying being the preferred charge. Furthermore, if these visitors traveled beyond their point of entry within the country, they were supposed to report to the nearest police station once again and re-register. Failure to do could again mean arrest, harassment and the spending of large amounts of dollars. And, before someone gets agitated and accuses me of being rabidly pro-American, let me explain that this treatment was meted out to both White and Brown (Pakistani Origin) Americans alike!

To put the matter in yet further perspective, let us also remind ourselves that Pakistanis visiting India have always had to undergo a somewhat similarly degrading registration process. Likewise, we have equally demeaning procedures for Indians visiting our country. The plight and exploitation of hapless Bangladeshis living illegally in Pakistan is well known. As is the treatment meted out to the “Rafiqs” and “Miskeens” from Pakistan in our “brotherly” countries. Our newspapers routinely publish horror stories and letters to the Editors narrating woeful incidents that involve Pakistanis in the Middle East. At any given time, a reasonably large number of Pakistanis are languishing in foreign jails waiting to be deported. The removal of shoes was very much in vogue in Saudi Arabian Airport security checks well before 9/11. For some time now, airports in “friendly countries” have had special check-in counters for, among others, Pakistani Passport holders. All these are considered normal; we must only freak out when the US elects to document its illegal foreigners.

It is amazing how we always take up a fight for the wrong cause at the wrong time. We have had enough disasters to realize the folly of our ways yet we persist. Why cannot we look dispassionately at a situation and take decisions based on rationale, deep thought, wisdom and vision? Why do we have such myopic vision when it comes to understanding and reacting to international situations? Why can we not plan and predict various outcomes? Why indeed, was this problem of registration not foreseen as it was evolving? Why this belated running around? Why couldn’t the government come up and state boldly to its citizens that it had tried its utmost but was unable to prevent the Americans from imposing this requirement? This done, why could we then not come up with a rational, measured and understandable response that would be appreciated by both the Pakistani community and the Americans? (And before I leave this train of thought, is anyone even thinking what the next American move might be? Are options being debated, scenarios being developed, brainstorming sessions taking place? Or are we doomed to being reactive; never becoming proactive in our conduct)?

There must be dozens of methods of working with the Americans. How about assisting them and our fellow countrymen in the documentation process? Why not team up with the INS in documenting the indeterminate and possibly illegal Pakistani resident population. This is a good opportunity to update (perhaps ‘create’ is the right word) our own database of Pakistanis resident in the US. Maybe the INS welcomes manpower support in the form of interpreters, assistants, welfare workers and researchers who can supplement their (possibly overstretched) staff. And, finally, how about helping those Pakistanis that end up suffering as a result of this law in as best a manner as possible.

Pakistanis in the US are there to build a better future for themselves; not destroy their hosts. This is a fact, definitely well known to the Americans. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are honest, law-abiding citizens and decent human beings. Being human beings, they do however have their weaknesses and follies. Yes, they may have overstayed their visas, yes they may have procured fake ID cards, yes they may have doctored their documents, yes they may have parking violations, and yes, they may not be filing their tax returns honestly. This is not about these lapses. This is about rooting out the terrorists that may exist in their midst. These individuals pose a far greater threat to the Muslims across the globe than to the Americans. Isn’t what is happening proof enough? A Land of Opportunity for our industrious workforce transformed overnight into an Empire of Hate!

(I hate to end on a ludicrous note, but being a blue blooded Pakistani, I must. If only the Americans were to put India on the list too! This would make the entire process completely acceptable to a vast majority! Indeed it would be quoted by all as an example of American evenhandedness! I know that this is going to happen in the near future; it is a logical progression in the alien documentation process. The day that happens, rest assured that some wily Pakistanis are going to take full credit for this achievement! And the rest of us, gullible as ever, shall cheer and rejoice).