‘Yes we Khan’: US applies drone diplomacy at Toronto Airport (Op-Ed)

Imran Khan (Reuters / Mian Kursheed)
One story, overshadowed by Hurricane Sandy, the Obama-Romney race and Syria’s civil war, nevertheless, tells a lot of who’s who in today’s world.

It is the story of who is setting the rules of the game and drawing the world’s new divisive lines to supplement the old barricades.

Here it is for you. It involves a living legend of Pakistani cricket, largely seen as the country’s next prime minister or president, sportsman-turned-politician Imran Khan. Khan was flying from Ottawa to New York to attend a key fundraising event after collecting money in Canada for the nearing elections in Pakistan when he was removed from the plane to be questioned by US immigration authorities last Friday.

You may ask, why? Well, the detention could be hardly explained by the vague language of a terse statement on the issue, made by the US State Department’s Spokesperson Laura Lucas. The explanation sounds confusing:

“We are aware that Imran Khan had been briefly delayed in Toronto before boarding the next flight to United States. The issue was resolved. Mr. Imran is welcome in the United States.” In a later statement, State Department spokesman Mark Toner denied that Khan was held and interrogated in Toronto.

Anyway, was it really such a bizarre form of “welcome”? Or was it rather a cold shower? What is crystal clear is that Khan’s abrupt offloading at Toronto Airport had nothing to do with security or other reasons which should have prompted US immigration authorities to act in such a weird way, as if catapulting a Pakistani celebrity from the plane. No alleged terrorist connection or serious crime, nor any wrongdoing was reported.

All in all, as a result of the incident the humiliated the leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party had to take another flight to New York and missed the fundraising lunch and subsequent events, which, in fact, were on the priority list of his four-day visit to US, which ended this week.

What shed some light on the incident was a comment, left on Twitter by Khan himself. Describing his US trip perils, the Pakistani politician confessed he was “interrogated on [his] views on drones”.

"My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop." While not trying to hide his disappointment, Imran Khan made himself clear that it is prudent to stand by one’s views.

"Missed flight and sad to miss the fundraising lunch in NY, but nothing will change my stance," he wrote.

Just imagine what could have happened, if eventually a visiting US senator was detected in a Pakistani airport and taken off his plane to be interrogated, say, on continuous airstrikes in Pakistan, denounced by Islamabad. However, as an old Latin adage goes, “Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi” [What is legitimate for Jove is not legitimate for oxen – Ed.].

Two millennia after the Romans some things actually haven’t changed. Might is right the same way it happened in the time of Roman wars. No need to say that every time they take to the global skies US and Pakistani politicians would be respectively treated as VIP and coach-class passengers, with one enjoying de facto immunity, not written into any Geneva convention, while the other being deprived of it.

What strike me most of all in the Imran Khan story is not even the notorious double standards shown again – the reality, all of us in the global village seemingly got used to long ago. While navigating the web I discovered something that until last week I actually didn’t know. As it turns out, Khan was far from being the only Pakistani dignitary punished by the Obama administration in a carefully-veiled move through introducing US entry restrictions or a visa curtain for taking the risk of striking a critical note on White House foreign and security policy.

It is reported that some weeks earlier, Shahzad Akbar, a prominent Pakistani lawyer who represents drone victims in lawsuits against the US and is also known as the co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, was denied a US entry visa while planning to address an international conference in Washington.

In another incident, dated back to this May, Mohammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student, who produced a short film titled The Other Side, which “revolves around the idea of assessing social, psychological and economical effects of drones on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan” was twice denied a US entry visa and never reached US shores.

Ironically, Qasim was chosen as the winner of the Audience Award for Best International Film at the 2012 National Film Festival For Talented Youth, held annually in the US.

But let us get back to the Imran Khan story.

“What makes this most ironic is that the US loves to sermonize to the world about the need for open ideas and political debate. In April, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had lectured the planet on how ‘those societies that believe they can be closed to change, to ideas, cultures and beliefs that are different from theirs, will find quickly that in our internet world they will be left behind,’” writes Glenn Greenwald in a story carried by The Nation Pakistani leading daily.

According to the author, Clinton’s remarks raise eyebrows as “she is part of the same government that seeks to punish and exclude filmmakers, students, lawyers, activists and politicians for the crime of opposing US policy.”

Isn’t it a major paradox that while all dictionaries describe the freedom of movement as one of the basic human freedoms and ABC of free market society (along with the free flow of ideas and capital), in present day realities it becomes more a freedom with a price tag attached to it. 

So, if you are not ready to compromise your views, be ready to be detected in Toronto Airport while en route to the US or somewhere else, as happened with Imran Khan and the others. You will find no way to escape from the welcome drones of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize-winner’s diplomacy.

­Sergey Strokan, for RT