It took us four hours to come out of Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport. We had landed there at three in the afternoon but when we came out of the airport, it was late evening.
We had left Paris at noon and when we landed at Dulles we were received in the way we had feared. I stood in line for half an hour just to reach the immigration counter. Once there, the immigration officer asked me a series of questions. It began with: “What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?” I replied: “Pakistan and America are holding a strategic dialogue and I have come for that.”
The officer asked me who had invited me and I told him that it was the US Department of State. He asked who would be my host and I said the US government, to which he asked if I had any “proof” of that. I showed him the proof. He then asked me what I did and I told him that I worked in a newspaper and a TV channel. He then asked me how old I was, to which I said “forty”. He fixed his eyes on me and I couldn’t hide my grin. I was then asked for my thumb impression and directed to another counter.
There sat a fat, bald American in a blue uniform. He took my documents and ordered me to sit in what seemed to be a waiting hall. Soon enough, the rest of my travelling colleagues joined me — apparently they were also suspects like me. After some time, people from other nationalities also started coming into the hall.
An hour went by. My colleagues and I were discussing the future of our government when the fat American appeared and in a pure, American accent yelled something like “Jeuw’ved Shoodri”. My colleagues and I guessed that he had called my name but before I could stand up, an old East European couple started following the officer. We resumed our discussion but my eyes were following the immigration officer.
From a distance, I noticed the old couple arguing with the officer. I felt they had gone there wrongly as my name had been announced and I went to where they were standing.
An exasperating and tiresome interview started in which I was made to feel as if I was solely responsible for all the anxiety Americans everywhere were experiencing on account of terrorism. I was made to think I was the reason Americans spent sleepless nights.
I got exhausted during the 40-minute interview and decided to accept all the allegations and accusations levelled against me. But before I could do this, the bald man relented and allowed me to enter America. I took my passport, praised the bald man for his generosity and hospitality and triumphantly shook his hand. I was sure at that moment that some of my colleagues must have become jealous of my success.
Mubashar was waiting for me in the hall. He has a French passport and therefore, I thought, had escaped the special suspicion that we were greeted with. However, I was wrong. As both of us were about to leave the hall he was stopped by officials — it was his turn now. They asked him only three or four questions but exhausted him by making him wait for 90 minutes.
Eventually, the wait ended for all of us and as we all walked out of the hall, something dawned on me. I realised that citizens — be they ministers, advisers or journalists — of a nation that does not guard its honour must go through total humiliation if they want to enter the United States.
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Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.