"These are to request and require in the name of the president of Pakistan all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him/her every assistance and protection of which he/she may stand in need."
Such is the inscription printed in every passport issued to a citizen of Pakistan which allows him/her to travel to foreign countries.
This past September, Syed Shehzad, a student of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, with four other class fellows traveled back to Pakistan following a study visit to the University of Pennsylvania. Their stay in the States as Shehzad described it, "was a pleasantly surprising, harassment-free sojourn." They boarded an Egypt Air flight in New York for Cairo, where they were to transit and board an onward flight to Karachi.
At Cairo airport, their passports were taken by the transit authorities and when the time came to board their onward flight to Karachi, Shehzad was handed back the passport of some other traveler.
He informed the official that it was not his and returned it. Whereupon he was informed that his passport had been misplaced and that his three companions should leave on the scheduled flight and that he would follow on a later flight as soon as his passport had been located. His companions flew off, with Shehzad's luggage which had not been offloaded.
Shehzad was then led into an immigration detention center. When he protested, he was told that he was detained on the charge of traveling on a stolen passport - and this despite the fact that the US immigration authorities had cleared him through at JFK - and that the basis for the charge was 'Pakistani intelligence reports'.
In the detention center, having also been offloaded from the same flight from New York, were two other Pakistani citizens. One was an elderly lady in a wheelchair (she has requested that she not be identified), who had been on a visit to her two sons in the US, and the other a young man, Jamil Ashraf, who had just graduated in the US as an engineer and whose Pakistani passport had been issued in Washington.
Their 'detention' commenced at 0300 hours on September 22. They were not given access to any food or drink, the elderly lady, when she asked to be allowed to use a bathroom, was directed to the men's room. They were not allowed to make telephone calls to inform their relatives in Karachi who were expecting them that they were not on their scheduled flight.
Shehzad's parents were naturally alarmed when informed by his classmates on their arrival in Pakistan as to what had happened to their son. His father made frantic telephone calls to the Egypt Air offices in the US, to the Pakistan embassy in Cairo, and to the Pakistan Foreign Office.
It took thirteen hours before the Pakistan embassy in Cairo was made aware of the situation of the three detainees, and six hours later, at 2230 that night, the first secretary of the embassy arrived at the airport pleading delay due to his having been occupied with arrangements for a cultural event to be held the next day.
The Egyptian response to the first secretary's inquiries into the matter was that they actually had no reports from any authorities in Pakistan as to any stolen passports. However, the three were not released. They remained in a cell with a few men from Central Africa who had been held for three weeks without any charges being levied against them.
On September 24, after 56 hours of detention without any food or drink, having been incarcerated in the most deplorable conditions, the first secretary of the embassy turned up once more and the three were released.
The next Egypt Air flight to Karachi was three days hence. When they requested the Egyptian authorities to arrange and pay for their stay at the airport transit hotel, they were told that if they wished to move to the hotel they would have to pay for themselves, otherwise they were welcome to remain in the detention cell.
The Pakistan embassy extended no cooperation, offered no help. The three agreed to finance their own stay at the hotel and were allowed to move there, but they were placed under 'room arrest' and told they were not allowed to leave the hotel.
They managed to arrange food and drink to be brought to them from the Egypt Air flight kitchen.
Egypt Air, in contrast to the airport immigration authorities and the Pakistan embassy, was most obliging. Having explained their situation on the telephone, they asked an airline officer if the three of them could be accommodated on any other regional flight out of Cairo to Karachi which would save them from a further three days' stay in Cairo. They were flown out at 0900 hours on September 25.
Now, according to hints dropped by the Pakistan embassy official in Cairo and what the three detainees gleaned from the attitude of the Egyptians, the feeling they get is that Egypt is resentful of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies because of the fact that many of the Al Qaeda fugitives so far picked up in Pakistan have been Egyptian nationals. Syed Shehzad (0333-2243327) and Jamil Ashraf (021-8115239) are keen that the Pakistan Foreign Office take up this matter with the Egyptian authorities, and clarify the situation in the interests of Pakistanis traveling to Egypt.
We have built for ourselves an 'image' which depicts us as being what most of us are not. 'Prejudice' or 'bias' notwithstanding, we have to improve our image. This entails our evolving into a state of being regarded by the peoples of the rest of the world as rational and reasonable - and this will take a long time.
Whenever I apply for a renewal of my passport, on the application form, against the column headed 'Religion', I naturally write in the word 'Zoroastrian'. The passport officer invariably ignores this, obviously having no clue as to what it is, and replaces it in the passport with the word 'Parsi', which of course is not a religion. Immigration officials at foreign airports see the dark green passport, the crest of our republic, look at my beard, and read that my religion is 'Parsi'. This sends them into a flat spin. I am asked to stand aside, am escorted into a side room, and have to suffer whatever they have in store for me.
The printed inscription on passports, invoking the name of the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, helps not a whit.
I know this because I am lucky and have the best of both worlds. In the West I am a government employee. So, I get preferred treatment. In the Middle East, land of my ancestors, I come from a large and well known family.......Al Taheree. Because of this, even in Egypt, I walked through customs without even a glance at my luggage. And I am originally from Yemen. I just had to express my beliefs and offer my support to the 2 Pakistanis who had to go through the ordeal they did. Were it in the US, they would be entitled to monetary compensation for unlawful detention. I dont know what the rules in Egypt are like. But I have an idea. If you came from the right places: US, Saudi, Kuwait, etc. or whichever nation Egypt kisses their hands. Then maybe you would be eligible for not only monetary funds. But even an apology by the President himself printed in any newspaper you like. Now, all that is left to be done is for the Egyptian authorities to read my comment, and I too will be in that detention center. And I will say hi to the Central Africans, whom I believe are probably still there.