Friday, January 31, 2003

Pakistan is, at best, balanced on a knife edge. The government is nominally allied with us in our fight with al Qaeda, but its head has a long history as a sponsor of the Islamist rebels in Kashmir, its government and intelligence services effectively created the Taliban, and former Taliban forces are happily ensconced on Pakistani territory, from which they emerge for firefights with American troops near the Afghan-Pakistani border. And there's also the prospect of a war with India over Kashmir. Both sides have nukes, and some of the Pakistani leadership seems to think that using them wouldn't be such a bad idea --- one says, "If I were in charge, I would have already done it."

So, we might well want to do what we can to win sympathizers there --- by, for example, making sure to treat influential Pakistani visitors here as valued and honored guests. Then again, we might not:

Ejaz Haider is an editor with Pakistan's most respected English-language newsweekly and a visiting research scholar at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington's most prominent think tanks. ...

On Tuesday, however, Haider became one of the latest people detained in the government's registration program for temporary foreign visitors when two armed INS agents accosted him on the street and took him into custody.

"We were stunned. I never thought I'd see this in my own country: people grabbed on the street and taken away," said Stephen P. Cohen, head of the Brookings South Asia program for which Haider worked. "If he hadn't come into the building to show the agents some notes, it's not clear we would have known where he was."

As is usual in these cases, Haider was relying on INS assurances that he wasn't in trouble, which played false:

According to the Justice Department, Haider had missed a deadline to check in with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Haider, however, said officials at the State Department and INS had both told him he could ignore the requirement to check back within 40 days of registering upon arrival at Dulles International Airport.

And it can't help that he was in the country to express concern about overzealous enforcement of immigration law. But, things could have been worse:

When he was released Tuesday night, he said he was told to make his own arrangements to return to Washington, but had left his wallet, as instructed, at Brookings. Fortunately, he said, he had a Metro Farecard in one of his pockets. The INS agents dropped him off at the King Street Station.

"The [Pakistani] embassy told me I was very lucky," he said. "They said . . . they had left young men almost in the middle of nowhere." Haider, who has visited the United States six times, said he cannot wait to leave and, if such policies continue, will never come back.

"This is not the United States I used to come to," he said.

If the plan is to piss off our allies and sympathizers, with the general aim of stirring up trouble, it couldn't be working out better.


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