While the Flying Four, who have been operating from New York and flitting to and fro that base are enjoying the attention of Pakistani officials and partaking of the hospitality on offer, the five men and the woman who made the junket possible remain where they were
By the end of September, the Visit was finally over and done with but because things always tend to go from bad to worse, within days there was another. And it is far from over as I write this; in fact, as Karen Carpenter sang, ‘We’ve only just begun’. The delegation of four lawmakers, who are innocent of having drafted any law in living memory, led by Mushahid Hussain, landed here to meet Aafia Siddiqui, canonised in life as the Pakistani Joan of Arc. They are also to make a side trip to Guantanamo, where all they will be able to meet will be lazy iguanas, banana rats, slithering snakes and snarling prison guards.
Where does the duty of these three men and one woman lie? Certainly not in Guantanamo, where only five Pakistanis remain. And they are not there because they are prisoners of conscience. They are not there in pursuit of some great humanitarian or patriotic cause. They are still there after the vast majority of the US naval prison’s inmates has been sent home or shipped to countries that would take them. Of the original 775 inmates, only 270 remain, 55 or so of them cleared for release, but not our five. They are there because of their links to Al Qaeda or one of its deadly affiliates.
What message are the four legislators sending to the world by flying into that Cuban strip that has been under American control since 1903? Weeks before the Flying Four arrived, US authorities conveyed to the Embassy of Pakistan in writing that it will not be possible to meet the prisoners. Why then was the visit not called off, the Pakistani taxpayer at whose expense the Flying Four are travelling would want to be told.
As of now, the Flying Four have not been able to get to Guantanamo because only those duly authorised by the US government are permitted to do so. I have been to Guantanamo and I can certify that all the four visitors will be shown will be some of the camps from the outside — plus one model but empty cell — the odd mess hall and kitchen, the small healthcare facility that includes a dentist, the original site of the camp, if it has not been flattened since I was there, and as many iguanas — an ugly little thing straight out of pre-history — as the visitors wish to see.
They may also be “briefed” by the camp commandant and they will be allowed to speak to a couple of the guards. They will be fed well and they will be put up comfortably. But the question remains: What will Pakistan, its parliament and its people have gained by this visit?
As for Aafia Siddiqui, whom the Flying Four have already met, by travelling all the way from Pakistan to meet her, the Pakistani parliament, not to speak of the government, have already passed judgement on a case yet to be heard in court. Thus Ms Siddiqui has been officially declared innocent of all charges, those made and those that may be in the offing.
In the 2 hours and 45 minutes that the Flying Four spent with her, they were unable to get much out of her. She was unwilling or unable to answer a single question that could have established a coherent sequence of events and lifted the veil from what continues to remain hidden and unexplained.
Back in Pakistan, her family has done likewise. Why did the family not lodge a missing person report with the police for five long years when Ms Siddiqui with her three children is said to have disappeared on her way from home to Karachi airport for a flight to Islamabad? Why did the father of the three children, from whom she was by then divorced, not report to the police that his three children were missing? There are other questions that are equally mystifying but few of our people have much of an interest in digging for the truth. It is much easier to have opinions.
Mushahid Hussain, who first announced that he would hold a press conference after meeting Ms Siddiqui, changed his mind after meeting her. However, he was on the blower to a reporter in Islamabad who duly put in his paper what he had been told. So at least the heroics of the “leader of the parliamentary delegation” were brought home to readers back home as the power went on the blink for the umpteenth time that day.
While the Flying Four, who have been operating from New York and flitting to and fro that base are enjoying the attention of Pakistani officials and partaking of the hospitality on offer, the five men and the woman who made the junket possible remain where they were.
It is also my unhappy duty to report that some of the lawmakers are here with their lady wives. And why not? This is fall, the best time of year in this part of the world. The country is in recession and the stores desperate to get rid of their fall collections and stock up for Christmas and winter. As such huge discounts are being offered on all wares.
Nothing, just nothing, I can state from experience, has ever kept a Pakistani visitor to the West from the stores. When I was living in London in the 1980s, so many times had I had to take visitors from Pakistan to Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street that the sales girls had come to know me by face. I was never asked by anyone to take him to the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert or the National Art Gallery. I can lay it 10 to 1 that none of the Flying Four has been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Guggenheim or even to a Broadway play.
It is not clear at the time of writing how many more days the taxpayers of Pakistan will have the privilege of hosting our four lawmakers as they wait to fly to meet the iguanas of Guantanamo. For updates, do watch this space, while I call out to Mickey to bring me a glass of water to fight off my nausea.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, 12/10/2008