'All Pakistanis are terrorists'
By Imran Khan in
on May 4th, 2010
Clearly it's a nonsensical headline.
But a quick glance across news headlines on Tuesday May 4 reveals the two top stories are both about young Pakistani men, one a resident of Lahore, the other with a background similar to mine, a Western citizen of Pakistani descent.
The first has been convicted with terrorism offences in India, the second arrested in connection with the Times Square foiled bomb attempt.
Now, I have no idea whether the chap arrested in connection with New York offence is a terrorist or not. But it almost does not matter.
Form of racism
Pakistanis and those of Pakistani descent are once again under the spotlight. It's a form of racism and anger is building because of it.
I travel a lot. In the last eight months I have visited the US a number of times.
Each time I have been pulled into secondary immigration, a sort of holding pen whilst your validity to enter the US is checked out.
It takes at least three hours and, after a 14-hour flight, is not a welcome proposition.
The questions are always the same: Why are you here? Who are you visiting? My answers inevitably are always the same. No matter, each time I had to go through the process.
A visa application of mine to a country I won't name has been put through a much more stringent process because I am of Pakistani descent.
In 2005, I travelled to Israel, where yet again I was stopped and asked several questions about my family background. It was just after the 7/7 bombings in London. A crime committed by, as you probably recall, British men of Pakistani descent.
I arrived having travelled through Jordan. I was carrying a British passport, holding $10,000 in cash (for our bureaux, not personal funds, I might add).
My full name is Mohammed Imran Khan and I work for Al Jazeera.
Oh, and I was carrying a rucksack, the favoured delivery method of the 7/7 bombers. It took me five hours to clear customs. I was never told why.
How things are
Trifling, I know, when compared to the Palestinian experience, but indicative of how things are.
In the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, I bumped into a fairly well known BBC reporter and former colleague of mine. I told him the story of my crossing.
"What do you expect," he said. "You are Pakistani."
Except I am not. I am British.
In the UK, where I was born and have lived the vast majority of my life, I was stopped and searched.
Once, when I was working for that most British of Institutions, the BBC, I was stopped filming when a nosey policeman ran my name through the system.
It was clearly red-flagged. His response was terse when I requested to get on with my job. "You are in our system," he said. The BBC to their credit took up the matter with the police, but I have no idea whether it made any difference.
It is frustrating. But I have got used to my status of being of Pakistani descent not being a plus point. For others, though, it breeds anger and resentment.
Subject of Pakistan
Three weeks ago I was staying in New York, just few blocks away from Times Square. I was sitting with a friend, just talking about everything and nothing as one does.
The subject of Pakistan came up and I shared my thoughts. The bartender overheard our conversation and said something startling to me: "Do you know where Bin Laden is?"
I was shocked, but not surprised. My American friend, however, carefully picked up his vodka and cranberry juice, took a small sip and then poured the rest of it on the floor.
He then opened his wallet, left a large tip and walked silently out of the bar. He later told me that he felt it was simple racism that he would not tolerate.
My Pakistani friends across the West often complain of racism.
Pakistan has become terror central and it's most public export is terrorism, it would seem.
Plurality of Pakistan
I have long given up trying to explain to people about the plurality of Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora.
I have long given up on trying to talk about how Pakistan's biggest export into India is pop music, how Pakistani fashion designers produce beautiful collections that sell for thousands of dollars all over the world, of how Pakistani artists are producing some incredible and very modern work.
No, I listen as people rail against my background, accuse me of being a terrorist or the very least a terrorist sympathiser.
But here is the rub. Ancient cultures are littered with references to something called a "self-fulfilling prophecy'.
Call someone something and they eventually become that thing. Call Pakistanis terrorist and guess what? You will have Pakistani terrorists.
It's a simplistic argument, but when faced with visa delays, when asked personal questions about my background from Po-faced border guards, when stopped and searched by police officers, an anger does build.
My protestations about being British don't count. They see my skin colour and my name and they see one thing.
A threat. I smile and hope common sense prevails, and to be fair it often does.
But as Pakistani terror fills the headlines, I wonder how long it will be before this kind of racism becomes normal.
NY plot worries Pakistani Americans
Investigators in Pakistan and the US are continuing to pursue possible links between Faisal Shahzad, the New York bomb suspect, and fighters in Pakistan.
The Pakistani ambassador to Washington said that no such connection has yet been established.
Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans in Jackson Heights, New York, have been thrown on the defensive by recent events.
Al Jazeera's John Terrett reports from New York, on how the attempted attack is causing concern among the Pakistani community.
Clinton warns Pakistan of terror 'consequences'
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned of "severe consequences" if a terror attack against the US would ever be traced back to Pakistan.
She told CBS while Pakistan had become more helpful in tackling extremists, co-operation could still be improved.
A Pakistani-born US citizen has been charged with an attempted bombing in Times Square in New York a week ago.
Earlier, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US was prepared to increase military assistance to Pakistan.
Intel officials: US missiles kill 10 in Pakistan
By RASOOL DAWAR (AP) – 55 minutes ago
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Suspected U.S. missiles killed 10 people in a militant-controlled region close to the Afghan border Sunday, the first such strike since an alleged Pakistani-trained extremist was linked to a bombing attempt in Times Square.
Last week's failed car bomb in New York City has added to pressure on Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaida and Taliban militants who have long had safe havens along the Afghan border. A Pakistan-American detained soon after the bomb attempt has allegedly told investigators he received explosives training in the Waziristan area there.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington expects more cooperation from Pakistan in fighting terrorism and warned of "severe consequences" if an attack on U.S. soil were traced back to the South Asian country.
200,000 Facebook fans want me to return to Pakistan: Musharraf
Pakistani sisters sprayed with acid
Men on motorbikes attack three girls aged 14-20 in Kalat, south-west Pakistan
Men on a motorbike sprayed acid on three sisters in the Kalat, south-western Pakistan, yesterday, causing serious burns.
The sisters, aged between 14 and 20, were on their way home when attacked. The girls' father, Abdul Karim, said that he had no idea of the motive.
Up to 135 women were victims of similar attacks in 2009, either being set on fire or having acid thrown on them, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said.
The attacks are usually linked to issues such as refusing a marriage proposal, failing to bear a son – or even something as trivial as cooking badly.
Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the HRCP, condemned the attack and criticised the government for failing to prevent violence against women.
"People carry out such attacks because they know they will get away with it, as they are either not arrested or their trial drags on," he told Reuters.
"If they go scot-free then others are also encouraged."
Name change stirs Pakistan protest
Eight people have been killed in northwestern Pakistan during protests against plans to rename the country's North West Frontier Province, witnesses reported.
The protests erupted on Monday and continued for a second day on Tuesday, as scores of people took to the streets of the city of Abbottabad.
Police fired tear gas and bullets into the crowd after protesters attacked two police stations and torched several vehicles, killing seven people, Asif Gohar Khan, a local police official, told The Associated Press news agency.
But demonstrators said police shot and killed at least eight people during the clashes.
The demonstrators were protesting against a parliamentary proposalto change the name of the North West Frontier Province, or NWFP, to Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa.
The name change was pushed in part by the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist group that leads the provincial government in the northwest.
But the violent protests have temporarily delayed the scheduled presentation of a constitutional reform bill to change the name to the upper house of parliament.
American jihadi suspects 'set up' by police, say lawyers
Lawyers for five Muslim men facing trial in Pakistan on terrorism charges claim that they can show that evidence was fabricated
Saeed Shah in Sargodha
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 11 April 2010 22.03 BST
Police fabricated evidence to incriminate five Americans facing trial in Pakistan on terror charges, lawyers representing the men will argue in court this week.
The men, all Muslims, were arrested in December in the central town of Sargodha, and have been charged with planning terrorist acts in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.
While the men admit wanting to travel to Afghanistan, they deny involvement in any jihadist activities and say they were planning to carry out "community work" in the country.
Defence lawyers will argue the men could not have made email contact with a Pakistani extremist linked to al-Qaida in the way the police claim.
According to the police's own summary of the investigation submitted to the court, investigators discovered the email account which was allegedly used to make contact several days after police had briefed journalists on the messages.
Similarly, the police report describes the discovery of maps of alleged target sites and other incriminating evidence more than two weeks after they had already told media about their existence.
The defence will also call into question police claims about the date of the men's arrest, which is several days after their widely reported detention on 9 December last year. Umer Farooq, 24, Waqar Hussain Khan, 22, Ramy Zamzam, 22, Ahmed Minni, 20, and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18, were charged under anti-terrorism laws.
Police say the group's intended target was Chashma Barrage, a complex located near nuclear power facilities in Punjab that includes a water reservoir and other structures.
The men, who pleaded not guilty, face life sentences if convicted on the most serious of the charges. They all grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC, where they were a tight-knit, religious group of friends. The Farooqs are originally from Sargodha and the men claim they had travelled to the Pakistani town to attend Umer's arranged marriage.
According to the police, the men were taken into custody on 9 December, but were allowed to go home each evening, and were only formally arrested five days later on 14 December. But there are no reported sightings of the men after 9 December.
Farooq's father Khalid, who was held for nearly three weeks before he was released, said that all of them were in continuous police custody after 8 December. "I was with the boys, in the same cell," he said. "There's no question of them being allowed out."
His son, Umer Farooq, 24, is on trial with Waqar Hussain Khan, 22, Ramy Zamzam, 22, Ahmed Minni, 20, and Aman Hassan Yemer, aged just 18. All of them grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC, where they were a tight-knit, religious, group of friends. The Farooqs are originally from Sargodha and the men claim they had travelled to the Pakistani town to attend Umer's arranged marriage to a local woman.
In a letter to Zamzam's parents seen by the Guardian, the men, who allege they were beaten by police and deprived of sleep and food in custody, face life in prison if convicted on the most serious of the charges.Following the arrest of the men, on 10 and 11 December police gave on-the-record briefings to local and international media about a Yahoo email account used to communicate with a Pakistani extremist called Saifullah.
They also said at the time that maps and jihadi literature were found with the men. But according to the police report lodged with the anti-terrorism court in Sargodha, where the men are being tried, it was only on 17 December that the suspects disclosed "their secret email address along with password" – allowing the investigators to find the communication with Saifullah.
In the document, a copy of which was seen by the Guardian, the police say that they found the extremist literature and maps on 26 December.
Defence lawyer Hasan Dastagir alleges that police misrepresented the date of the men's arrest in order to allow for inconsistencies in the evidence.
"By the ninth, the police had made up their mind what they were going to plant on these boys, because they had nothing on them," said defence lawyer Hasan Dastagir Katchela. "There are going to be some massive surprises (in court)."
The trial of the men resumes this on Saturday, 17 April.
According to Katchela, the later time given for the arrest was to allow police to create emails and other evidence dated after 9 December, and police have had to change the dates for the discovery of evidence, to fit the timing when they were "cooked up".
As they were transported to a court hearing in early February, the men tossed a note to journalists scribbled on toilet paper, alleging that they had been tortured.
The claims were repeated in a letter from Zamzam which was passed to his parents in March by US state department officials.
In the letter, seen by the Guardian, he wrote: "We were taken to a place where I still don't know where it was (we were blindfolded) and there were like 30 police and [intelligence] agency people who beat and tortured us. We were not given food or water for I counted to be at least 36 hours and they wouldn't let me sleep. ... They told us not to say anything to anyone about what happened … [unreadable word] they even threatened to electrocute us the day before court so we don't tell the judge but we spoke out and we did the toilet paper [note] so the world could know."
Usman Anwar, the district police chief for Sargodha, said the emails were genuine and "clearly show their evil intentions". He also denied the allegations of abuse, adding that the men had been "advised by their lawyer to make a hue and cry" to gain public sympathy.
Bhutto's daughter writes new page in family history
Like the Kennedys, the Bhuttos were blessed – and cursed – with power. Omar Waraich reports on a new memoir of a dynasty torn apart by violence
'Scores dead' in Pakistan air raids
Shadow lands: Pakistan - a nation under attack
American drones overhead, Taliban troops on the offensive, and the horrifying rise of child kidnapping – Pakistan is in pieces, writes Robert Fisk, in a devastating portrait of a country thwarted by violence and corruption
Pakistan ambushes you. The midday heat is also beginning to ambush all who live in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province. Canyons of fumes grey out the vast ramparts of the Bala Hisar fort. "Headquarters Frontier Force" is written on the ancient gateway. I notice the old British cannon on the heights – and the spanking new anti-aircraft gun beside it, barrels deflected to point at us, at all who enter this vast metropolis of pain. There are troops at every intersection, bullets draped in belts over their shoulders, machine guns on tripods erected behind piles of sandbags, the sights of AK-47s brushing impersonally across rickshaws, and rubbish trucks and buses with men clinging to the sides. There are beards that reach to the waist. The soldiers have beards, too, sometimes just as long.
I am sitting in a modest downstairs apartment in the old British cantonment. A young Peshawar journalist sits beside me, talking in a subdued but angry way, as if someone is listening to us, about the pilotless American aircraft which now slaughter by the score – or the four score – along the Afghanistan border. "I was in Damadola when the drones came. They killed more than 80 teenagers – all students – and, yes they were learning the Koran, and the madrasah, the Islamic school, was run by a Taliban commander. But 80! Many of them came from Bajaur, which would be attacked later. Their parents came afterwards, all their mothers were there, but the bodies were in pieces. There were so many children, some as young as 12. We didn't know how to fit them together."
The reporter – no name, of course, because he still has to work in Peshawar – was in part of the Bajaur tribal area, to cover negotiations between the government and the Taliban. "The drones stayed around for about half an hour, watching," he says. "Then two Pakistani helicopter gunships came over. Later, the government said the helicopters did the attack. But it was the drones."