IVLP: Saturday February 13, 2010
Saturday February 13, 2010
The first part of our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) ended in the US capital Washington DC today. However, the group would return to the District of Columbia to make for the all those appointments which were cancelled due to unprecedented snow on our arrival. For the first three days, we were completely locked up inside the Washington Plaza Hotel and all appointments were cancelled due to very heavy snow. They said it was the worst snow in the last 100 years. Life was brought to a complete standstill in the entire US capital because of the snow that blocked all roads and brought the shutters down in the business centers.
Soon after having breakfast, we all began to check out from our respective hotel rooms. Anther IVLP group comprising of Pakistan senior police officers was also staying at the same hotel. While traveling from Karachi to Washington, one of the participants of the other group, Abdul Khaliq Shiek, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Karachi East, traveled with us. The other group also checked out to go to Oklahoma City, the biggest city of the state with the same name.
Most of us were desirous to go for a city tour and take photographs at the White House and the Capital Hill. So, it was decided that we would take our luggage and go for a short city tour before we left for the airport. We left the hotel at around 11:00 am and went for a city tour. On the way, our English Language Officer (ELO) Greg Backer kept guiding us about different official buildings and their historical significance. We stopped at the White House gate. Falsely presuming that it would be a relatively warmer day, many of us had not worn warm clothes. We ended up cursing ourselves for not having done that as it was extremely cold.
We took photographs at the White House. I was very surprised that the official residence of the world’s most powerful man had less security than the house of a chief minister in Pakistan. We were told that the United States of America had witnessed an unprecedented increase in the security in the aftermath of 9/11. Hence, White House seemed to have come under more security for the Americans but for a Pakistani citizen it looked like an unguarded and easily accessible building. We did not see any security officers in front of the White House nor were we ever prevented from taking photographs from any side of the White House.
Back home in Pakistan, the offices and residences of our rulers are cardoned off miles away. You can not pass from the roads that go to the residence of the chief minister, governor or the president and the prime minister.
Then, we moved to the Capital Hill and the Pentagon too. On the way, we were shown the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Archives, the Pentagon, Lencoln Memorial, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museums, Jefferson Memorial, the office of the Voice of America (VOA) and several other important buildings.
At the airport, after we checked in, we were required to undergo Special Security Surveillance (SSS). This is what has stirred debate in Pakistan and is being used as the biggest source of anti-US propaganda.
All of us from Pakistan were asked to stand inside a cabin-like scanner for security inspection. It was a relatively different security check but utterly different from what the right-wing political parties had been propagating inside Pakistan. There was no strip-search as this disinformation had been spread back home that Pakistani visitors would be asked to take off their clothes for a body search. This did not happen for the international flight when we entered the US for the first time nor did it happen during a domestic flight. The scanner inside which we went for security check was located in a public place. It was made of glasses and very transparent. The security check lasted for around four minutes which I cleared smoothly.
“Take it easy,” said the young black security officer as I went through the scanning process.
“Its ok,” I responded.
There was indeed no need to feel humiliated on my side. Rather I was relaxed after giving my part of the security clearance for the reason that I had felt not guilty. I knew that this ‘special treatment’ was what we deserved as we came from a country which has had a lot of support for those who invaded the American way of life. I was delighted that the scanner cleared me which was sort of a certificate that I was not one of those due to which our image was tarnished internationally. The vast majority of people from my country does not share the terrorists’ ideology but subscribes to the ideas of freedom and individual liberty. Therefore, I believe we need not feel offended over such practices but must cooperate in order to clearly prove our disassociation with the enemies of humanity. The scourge of terrorism can be defeated only if all of us take it as a menace posed to each of us.
The journey from Washington to Tampa Florida with US Airways Flight 1741 lasted for around two and half hours. We arrived in Tampa at around 6:00pm.