Eye on Pakistan

PIA the First to Submit to America

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Political Economy by onpakistan on January 4, 2010

Foreign nationals (and American ethnic minorities, no doubt!) flying in from 14 “predominantly Muslim” countries are to undergo “enhanced screening” at American airports. (Official TSA announcement here).

According to press reports, and a statement from the airline itself, PIA was the first airline to submit to these procedures, and had done so from the 2nd of January: “Sultan Hasan said the passengers are subjected to special screening, including full body searches, in a designated area of the departure lounge. He said the airline had run advertisements in newspapers to warn prospective passengers of the increased safety measures.” How kind of PIA to offer itself as an advance guinea pig for the new procedures!

This is part of a wider trend towards increased American jurisdiction and control over Pakistani nationals. This is occurring through both legal treaty, and unofficially. The case of Aafia Siddiqui is already well known ( and quite rightly called the “tip of the iceberg”), but there are other recent insidious trends in the same direction. I have already blogged about how Pakistani government attempts to channel money flows in and out of Pakistan through the institutionalized and regulated banking sector will allow for greater U.S. control of Pakistani money transactions. Now this: the Pakistani government has conveniently discovered that it can actually legally deport Pakistanis to America: “We have an extradition treaty with the US,” Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said at a recent media briefing. The basis is, rather flimsily, a US-UK accord dating back to 1932!! Zardari et al clearly want to protect themselves from torture and human rights-based litigation once they retire to their palatial mansions in the UK or Switzerland.

But why bother with formal extradition, when the Pakistani government has allowed American security forces and mercenaries to harass Pakistani citizens in their own homes…in Pakistan? (At least this ‘fortunate’ woman was not dragged off to Bagram, or reditioned to be tortured in Syria – like this unfortunate, and almost randomly chosen, Canadian citizen).

Talk of tortue, ofcourse, takes one back to the countries chosen for additional screening (strip searches anyone?) by the US authorities. They are:

Cuba
Iran
Sudan
Syria
Afghanistan
Algeria
Lebanon
Libya
Iraq
Nigeria
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
Yemen

What an assorted bunch they are. They include strong allies of the US (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), sworn enemies (Iran, Cuba, Syria), client-states (Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon) and, interesting, governments which happily torture on behalf of the US: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya. I would not be surprised if Jordan is eventually added: it is both a client-state and lead-torturer.

A final note on PIA. It is in under imminent threat of bankruptcy. It cannot even now pay for the government’s five (yes, five!!) private VVIP jets.  Responsibility for their financial upkeep has now been transferred to the military. (see this report) This may be in preparation for an eventual privatization of PIA. Once the Arabs purchase PIA (and the Arabs are the only politically viable purchasors), the airline will no doubt further fall prey to American security demands. Whilst Bilawal and his buddies will continue to fly in VVIP comfort, Pakistan’s flying masses will have to get used to used to KESC-style service (KESC having been rather disastr0usly sold to Dubai-based Abraaj Capital a while back).

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