A trip to the US Embassy Islamabad

The US boasts itself to be a country that is Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

Imran Jan May 09, 2024
The writer is a political analyst. Email: imran.jan@gmail.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan


This is a story of privilege and critique. I am a US citizen. I happened to visit the US embassy Islamabad for some official work related to my documentation needs. I not only saw what was wrong, I also saw why it was wrong.

The US embassy Islamabad consists of sprawling buildings nestled securely near the portion of Margalla Hills that have been imprisoned inside what is called the Diplomatic Enclave. Once you step inside that real estate, the air and the heartbeat change. But getting inside is a monumental task. People have to travel to a certain spot near the Quaid-e-Azam University where they are stripped off not only their cellphones but also of their ego and dignity. Some men and women in some kind of uniform shout at the people for surrendering their cellphones and make copies of their ID cards and appointment letters. Then they are asked — well, actually ordered — to pay a hefty amount for a ride that is a mile or less. The intimidating spell of the USA starts from there.

Before hopping on the van, the security people checked all of our documents. As soon as the wheels started moving, another set of guards wanted to verify us again. I wondered what changed between two points almost 10 feet apart and in a clear line of sight of the guards. After a ridiculous number of times of being watched and verified by the guards inside the Diplomatic Enclave, we finally arrived at the monstrosity.

I instantly remembered what I had read in the book Permanent Record by Edward Snowden. About 70% of the embassy is dedicated to spying. The rest of the embassy does all the other work including visa and public relations work. I wondered which building would be the one doing that 70% of the work. And that is when I was greeted, well, actually stopped by the guard with a heavy weapon almost drawn at me. He was ready to shoot. I wanted to show him my documents but he quickly asked, sorry, ordered for the appointment letter to be shown to him. After he saw my US passport, he pointed to an entrance and ordered me to go to it.

There were many people already standing in line outside the building waiting for their turn to be let in. The men were using a napkin to wipe the sweat off of their forehead and the ladies had their documents covering their faces to avoid any damage to the immense makeup they had done for their chance to have an audience with the one person who’d decide on their fate as to whether or not they should travel to the land of opportunities.

Fifteen years ago, I had stood in that same line and I did not mind it at all. But today, despite being ushered into the building bypassing these people standing in line, I was not a very happy person inside the building. Back then, I had considered it a privilege to be standing in line to try my luck at the US visa lottery. It surely is a lottery. Today, being a US citizen and more importantly being a person who had known better, I was frustrated at the number of times I was asked to state my business at the US embassy.

I believe more than half of the crowd consisted of Afghans. The US boasts itself to be a country that is Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. These Afghans are the ones who sided with the occupier of their land and worked against those who fought for the freedom of their land. I wonder what kind of Land of the Free would they contribute toward in America. Home of the Brave? Well, bravery is to fight against the invader and occupier of your land not to aid and abet them.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2024.

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