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Cablegate: Pakistanis Criticize Enhanced Passenger Screening, Officials Threaten to Cancel U.S. Travel If Subject to It

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 000191

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/19/2020
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PK

SUBJECT: PAKISTANIS CRITICIZE ENHANCED PASSENGER SCREENING, OFFICIALS THREATEN TO CANCEL U.S. TRAVEL IF SUBJECT TO IT

Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION CRITICIZE ENHANCED SCREENING
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (C) Both the government and opposition have publicly and privately criticized the Transportation Security Administration's decision, announced January 4, to include Pakistan among the “countries of interest” whose citizens travelling to the U.S. will be subject to enhanced airport security screening. In recent days, senior Pakistani officials -- including President Zardari, Prime Minster Gilani, and Foreign Minister Qureshi -- have raised the issue in meetings with visiting CODELs and SRAP Ambassador Holbrooke. . . . In a January 11 meeting with CODEL Levin, Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for the opposition PML-N party, termed the screening procedures “yet another thorn in the side of U.S.-Pakistan relations” (Ref B). . . .

5. (C) On January 12, the NWFP Provincial Assembly unanimously passed a resolution that demanded that the federal government call on the U.S. to cease the screening and that it subject U.S. citizens to similar procedures. (Note: All travelers are already subjected to full-body pat-downs at Pakistan's airports. End Note.) NWFP assembly member (and former Consulate Peshawar FSN) Saqib Khan Chamkani (ANP), who was one of the cosponsors of the resolution, informed us that he had forged a compromise to soften language proposed by the JUI-F that called for a boycott of U.S. goods and for American citizens to be individually strip-searched by Pakistani screeners.

6. (U) Appearing on a January 12 talk-show on GEO TV together with the DCM -- who detailed the reasons we implemented the enhanced screening for travelers from and transiting Pakistan -- PML General Secretary Mushahid Hussein (PML-Q) . . . said the Pakistani government should bar parliamentarians from visiting the U.S. and U.S. CODELs from visiting Pakistan “until Washington reviews this discriminatory and shameful law.” On the same show, PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal argued that the screening rule must have been made in “knee-jerk mode” because “it is in sharp contrast with President Obama's stated policy to win the hearts and minds in the Muslim world.”

THREATS TO CANCEL U.S. TRAVEL
-----------------------------

7. (C) On January 13, the Chief of the Embassy's Office of the Defense Representative Pakistan (ODRP) received a letter from the Pakistan military's Joint Staff describing the enhanced security procedures as “contradictory” to the role played by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. According to the letter, the enhanced screening “puts to serious questioning” Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally and “impinge(s) adversely upon the enhanced cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan.” The letter requests that Pakistan be removed from the list of “countries of concern,” and that, in the interim, the U.S. provide an exemption from the screening to the Chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistan's Service Chiefs, and all Pakistani military delegations and holders of diplomatic passports. In the absence of assurances in writing of these exemptions, the letter claimed that Pakistan would not be represented at the January 24-26 Chiefs of Defense conference in Washington. . . .

8. (C) Deputy National Assembly Speaker Faisal Kundi (PPP) told Poloff on January 14 that if he is subject to the enhanced security procedures when he travels to the U.S. as an International Leadership Visitor Program (IVLP) participant in late April, he will “turn back around from the airport.” He said that Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) are not “ordinary Pakistanis” and thus he did not feel that they should be subject to such screening.

9. (C) On January 15, an official with the military's Strategic Plans Division (SPD) -- which oversees Pakistan's nuclear arsenal -- informed us that the enhanced screening may lead an SPD delegation to defer meetings in Washington scheduled for early February.

10. (C) Comment: Pakistani criticism of the enhanced screening, albeit measured in comparison with ongoing criticism of drone strikes and the criticism the Kerry-Lugar legislation has received, nevertheless features gross exaggeration of the facts of the U.S. decision and a degree of hysteria. That said, as Pakistanis return from U.S. trips, the criticism may intensify as the procedure becomes fleshed out with real experiences. Of course, the screening issue may ultimately lack broad public resonance because the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis will never travel to the U.S. But the screening has already touched a raw nerve among those Pakistanis who matter most: the elites, including government officials, who do travel to the U.S. and whose opinions about U.S. policy we must change for the better in order for us to succeed here.

11. (C) Comment Continued: We have made clear to the Pakistanis that the enhanced screening reflects the fact that planning, preparation, and training for terrorist acts against the U.S. are taking place in Pakistan, and that it applies to all individuals travelling to the U.S. from or through Pakistan, including U.S citizens and even U.S. diplomats. We do believe that some Pakistani officials and prominent personalities, including senior military officers, will cancel U.S. travel if we can not assure them they will be exempt from the screening. Well-known columnist Ejaz Haider told the DCM on a radio show on January 22 that he had declined an invitation to a CENTCOM conference in Tampa because of the new procedure. Cancellation of such travel would be a major setback to the bilateral relationship. To mitigate the possible damage, Post urges Washington to expand the range of foreign dignitaries exempt from enhanced screening, and put clear procedures in place that we can follow to arrange such exemptions.
PATTERSON

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