The treatment meted out to a Pakistani military delegation on Monday at the US Dulles Airport is nothing short of insulting. The eight-member delegation, led by a two-star naval officer and comprising senior military officials, was headed to Florida to attend a meeting at the US Central Command headquarters.
According to initial reports, en route, in Washington, a passenger complained that he did not feel safe sharing the flight with the delegation, reportedly because of an overheard remark by a Pakistani brigadier. Consequently, first the brigadier and then the entire delegation were asked to disembark. Although the delegates disclosed their identities and showed not only their passports but also the Centcom invitation letter, they were offloaded and detained for some time. The US Department of Defence issued an apology, but the delegates had by that time received directions from Pakistan to cancel the Centcom meeting.
It is highly unfortunate that such an episode should have occurred. Relations between the US and Pakistan are already complicated, given the war on terror and the drone controversy. They do not need the additional dimension of the humiliation of a senior military delegation that was in the US on an official invitation. Apologies are not enough: Pakistan should officially ask the US for an explanation and the latter must conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. An explanation is all the more needed given the growing concerns across the world of racial profiling at US airports. While this case is particularly high-profile, there have been many similar incidents in the past where passengers have been offloaded, detained, even arrested — apparently because of their race or nationality. Without a thorough investigation on the part of the US, this case too stands in danger of being understood as racial profiling. Meanwhile, an investigation is also needed at the level of the Pakistan Army to determine what the brigadier actually said, and to whom, since the carrier, United Airlines, told the US media that the brigadier “misbehaved” with a stewardess. If his conduct is found to have been unseemly, then the Pakistan Army must take action accordingly.
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