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This is not the untold, but the partially told, story of a Pakistani Army General, probably the most important Pakistan Army General for the United States, after General Musharraf himself.
This General commands the 11th Corps, the Pakistan Army corps stationed in Peshawar, which oversees all Army operations in the Pakistani Tribal Areas bordering the sensitive and challenging terrain with Afghanistan where the US Army is desperately trying to fish out fugitive Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including the top leaders Osama bin Laden and his runaway companions.
This story has been only partially told by Washington-based veteran journalist, Khalid Hasan of the Daily Times of Lahore, who along with Amir Ghauri, the smart anchor of the international satellite channel PTV Prime, were present at the 11 Corps Headquarter in Peshawar as guest of Lt. Gen Ali Jan Mohammad Orakzai on October 23, 2003.
General Orakzai was hosting a group of people, including these two journalists, who had been invited for a trip to the historic Khyber Pass by the Human Resources Development Commission of Washington-based Dr. Nasim Ashraf, now a close Musharraf consultant.
General Orakzai narrated to the group, including these journalists, the horror he had to face when he traveled to Tampa, Florida for the inauguration of the new Centcom C-in-C, General Abizaid, who replaced Gen. Tommy Franks.
He had been invited to Tampa by the US Army and as any simple Pathan would do, was traveling alone and light. He reached London and from there took a flight to New York, on his way to Tampa.
The horror began when he went in for briefing at the airline counter in London. He was asked like all Pakistani mortals, to take off his shoes, his jacket and his belt. He was thoroughly screened and checked and in some state of shock went through the motions, hoping they would end soon and he would board his plane. This treatment was supposed to be normal in view of 9/11.
He was paid more attention because he carried a Pakistani green passport and even more attention because he looked like a blue-eyed (true) white skinned descendant of Alexander the Great with a physique which comes with the uniform of an army general.
His ordeal in London was brief but a wake-up call of sorts. The plane took off with General Orakzai and after crossing the Atlantic, landed at JFK, the horror station for new comers, especially if arriving from a hot spot like Peshawar.
Here the General tried to use his brains and told the Immigration Officer he was a guest of the US Army, he himself was an army General and he had a flight to catch for Tampa which may leave without him if he was delayed.
John Ashcroft’s Homeland Security guys are used to such big mouths and big boasters. They don’t care who you are. So our key Corps Commander was asked to take off his shoes, carry the shoes bare footed to the machines for screening, was asked whatever number of questions were relevant and made to taste the medicine every Pakistani has been forced to gulp ever since 9/11, no matter how ‘tight’ General Musharraf was with his friend George Bush.
This story was narrated to the two journalists before Mr. Nasim Ashraf in Peshawar, who, of all the people, got the clarification from the General whether his comments were on the record, as Mr. Khalid Hasan was taking notes and it was obvious that he would print what Gen. Orakzai was saying.
Orakzai did not stop him but asserted that he was on the record. In very calm and sober, implicitly of course very menacing tones, made a statement which should open some eyes in the Pentagon and at Centcom. This is what Khalid Hasan wrote in his Sunday, Nov 16, 2003, column in the Daily Times:
“Anyone who tells you that there is no racial or religious profiling at American ports of entry is reading too many government press releases. The Bush administration does not realize how much goodwill at home and abroad it has lost and continues to lose by such crass, poorly thought-out and zealously implemented practices.
“Last month, Lt Gen Ali Jan Mohammad Orakzai, who commands 11 Corps in Peshawar, told a group of which I was a member, that he would never come to the United States again because last time he did that on an invitation from the US Army, at JFK, New York, he was made to take off his shoes, asked to carry them some distance and searched like a criminal. The General added that he was speaking on the record.”
Of course there are a million questions which need to be answered now, some by General Orakzai and others by his hosts in Tampa, FL. First when the General was invited officially, where were his hosts when he arrived at New York? Why was he not escorted out of the JFK like US Army Generals are when they touch down at any Pakistani Airport.
Next, did General Orakzai complain to his hosts about what happened? If not why not and if he did, what did they say? Again when back in control in Peshawar, did General Orakzai mention his horror story to General Musharraf and other colleagues who run the country? If one of them had been so insulted, who from amongst the ordinary mortals had the right to complain?
Why did the General keep quiet about it for so many days or weeks before he let out his fury before a foreign crowd? Why has this story not been published in any of the Pakistani newspapers so far, even after Khalid Hasan wrote it in a passing way at the end of his long column, which mostly dealt with what had happened to him when he traveled to Washington shortly before writing his column.
It should not be forgotten that the General who controls the key Tribal Areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan and who has to work all the time in close liaison with the US Army, based just across the Durand Line, says on record that he would never ever visit the United States again.
What does this statement mean for the US operations in that part of the world? Obviously this is the General who is supposed to catch Osama bin Laden for the Americans in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. He is also required to nab every other US enemy hiding there.
With the kind of feelings he has for the US, will he deliver the big goods that Centcom wants from his territory?
The biggest question, of course, is what have Musharraf and other generals done to redress the wrong so that not just Generals colluding with the US army are spared the indignities at US airports but ordinary citizens, not in any way involved with Al-Qaeda or Taliban, are also treated a bit more humanely.
But it appears that neither General Musharraf nor Centcom have tried to pacify the 11 Corps Commander in Peshawar, as he remains angry.
Had someone apologized to him, he would not be spilling the beans before journalists, to be printed and quoted all over the world.
This article originally appeared in the SOUTH ASIA TRIBUNE