By Kuldip Nayar
November 21, 2011
I do not know how Foreign Minister SM Krishna said that the Indian government’s strong protest against the frisking of former President Abdul Kalam by US security officials at JFK Airport had its effect. The US has offered only a routine type of apology and that shows that it gives two hoots about the humiliation of any high-up in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
These are considered Third World VIPs who do not count with the State Department, much less with the security apparatus directly under the US president. This arrogance is reflected all the way, beginning from security, immigration to the customs personnel.
Muslims from all over the world face the worst of treatments in America. Each one of them is a potential terrorist in the eyes of security officials. It seems that the primary reason for insulting Abdul Kalam is that he is a Muslim — and what he went through Shah Rukh Khan also had to face a couple of years ago. He had to take off his jacket and shoes even when he was India’s president. Now he is a former president and, therefore, had to be frisked twice, once at the airport and the second time when he had boarded the plane.
While Muslims bear the brunt, others from our part of the world are also treated brusquely. Even Hardeep Singh Puri, our ambassador to the UN, had to go through the body search and what not.
The treatment meted out to our former ambassador to America was no better. My hunch is that Washington resorts to such methods when it finds that New Delhi is not accepting some of its economic or business proposals.
I, too, had a taste of America’s security last year. I carried a diplomatic passport and my credentials said that I was a journalist. After the security personnel were through with the body search, I asked them what was wrong with my papers. One of them said: your passport has too many stamps of visits to Pakistan and Bangladesh and both are Muslim countries. I could not allay their fear on this point. I kept quiet.
Yet this only confirmed my suspicion that the Americans treat people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as fodder. We are too poor and too divided. That is our problem and we need to solve it. But this does not give America any right to treat nationals from underdeveloped countries as it does. I am surprised that even academics at the best of universities have not whispered a word against this.
An apology to Kalam would have meant something if it had come from President Barack Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. All he has received is a written apology from a junior US official. This is like rubbing salt into ones wounds. Philosophically, Kalam has said that it does not matter what happened to him.
Yet India has to ensure that such insults are not perpetrated again. But for that the American administration will have to agree to some norms and regulations. At present, everything is dependent on the whims of the security personnel at airports. Since the entire set-up is under President Obama, nobody from the US State Department or any other wing of government can challenge what it does.
In the meantime, New Delhi should withdraw the concessions extended to American VIPs and the US envoy at Delhi. This will jolt Washington. CPI-M leader Prakash Karat has rightly proposed a tit-for-tat response. But New Delhi does not have the gumption to accept such a suggestion. This is clear from the reaction of Foreign Minister Krishna who is satisfied with the routine apology offered.
The Patriot Act which was passed in America after 9/11 needs a second look. The Act gives sweeping powers for search and surveillance, and eliminates checks and balances that previously gave the US courts the opportunity to ensure that the right of personal liberty enshrined in the constitution is not abused. That no untoward incident has happened after 9/11 is a credit to the American security apparatus. But no democracy remains one if the clauses of the Patriot Act continue to operate. Strange, there is very little protest from the American people.
The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha
Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore