Intimidation on home soil!

April 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm 8 comments

When I was invited to two events in Colombo, I didn’t really want to go. I guess the two trips I had already had to take in the previous weeks and my father’s health had exhausted me completely – and I just wanted to get back into a routine that allowed me to switch off for a while each day. But the two events were important and I couldn’t justify not attending (yes I know this is a double negative but so what? ;))? One was a regional interaction on Cyber Crime legislation and the other was an Execuutive Committee meeting of the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance. So I decided to make the trip.

At Karachi airport I wondered yet again whether I had made the right decision. As I went in through the Fast Track section and my bags cleared security, I headed for the Check In counter but was stopped by an FIA/Civil Aviation guy who asked where I was going. I told him I was headed for Sri Lanka. He asked why I was going there. I was losing patience but I answered in the most civil tone possible. He then flipped through my passport and kept looking at me with what can only be termed as an intimidating look. This continued for a few minutes until I was forced to ask him if there was a problem. He stayed quiet and just peered at me again.

The ordeal wasn’t over yet. He then asked me to place my suitcase on the counter and proceeded to have it checked. Each item was checked out meticulously and the suitcase was checked out for a false bottom. By this team I was feeling a mixture of emotions – anger, fear, uncertainty. I asked the guy again what the problem was. He again said nothing. I told him that I traveled frequently and had never been put through such a process. Were they looking for something in particular? Did they have some sort of intelligence that they should perhaps share with me? Should I even travel? That is how nervous I had become.

He looked at me one more time with that same intimidating gaze and then told me to move on without answering any of my concerns. I was feeling pretty shaken by that time but proceeded to check in, past immigration and into the lounge and was soon on my way to Colombo. It was the first time that I was unable to sleep on the flight.

When I got my luggage in Colombo, I found that my new combination luck which my brother had brought for me from London was missing. Someone had obviously removed it. God knows why. There was nothing missing. This had got curiouser and curiouser – and it had made me feel that my personal space had been “invaded” and I had been unnecessarily “terrorized”. Is all this action against the average citizen justified under the guise of security?

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vic  |  April 19, 2011 at 8:57 am

    The security person’s actions seemed intimidating to you, it appears, because of his inability to explain his motivations – and indeed, his authority – in double-checking your baggage. How could it have slowed him down to say something innocuous and reassuring to calm your worries?

    When people are given the authority to exercise checks that may be excessively intrusive on other circumstances – in your office, car, or house, for instance – it should not be a license to intimidate – not unless intimidation is necessary. That was hardly the case.

    Most likely, the security person has never been trained in defusing situations by design, using people skills. Without that, the ability to correctly analyse the intentions of a ‘suspect’ person is virtually crippled. The supervisory officer ought to be severely pulled up for allowing such poorly trained people to handle such a critical job, ensuring the safety of the traveling public. I would go so far as to say that the securityperson almost certainly ensured that his search of your baggage would fail, even had you been a ‘person of interest’ as they euphemistically put it.

    Not that you aren’t an interesting person.

  • 2. Jamal  |  April 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

    If this bothers you, never travel to America!!!

    By the way, the reason the security official didn’t say anything is probably because they are not meant to say anything. You just have to go through the process. If they suspect you for any reason (well founded or otherwise) they will give you intimidating glances so that they can gauge your reaction. The Israelis are experts at this and, now, so are the Americans. It makes you feel incredibly unwelcome and part of you just wants to ask for your passport back so you can take the next flight home.

    This rarely ever happens in Pakistan, as you have noted in your blog. But if it ever does, just thank your lucky stars you are in Pakistan and not America… there, they would have pulled you into a secure room and made you wait for hours for no darn reason. The walls are plastered with signs asking you not to turn around and to only face one particular wall. Other walls have maps of the middle east and other muslim countries which presumably they deem “high risk”. No questions allowed, no phones, no contact with the outside world at all!

  • 3. Qazi Fazli Azeem  |  April 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I know what you mean, Jehan. In 2009 I was invited by a school for children with autism and special needs, in chittagong bangaldesh. These were children of very low income parents who needed a trainer for their special educators and they had agreed to pay for my ticket and stay, and i had agreed to pass on valuable training for them, which they could not afford from foreign trainers. The same airport personell asked me why i am going to chittagong, i got really angry told him why but looked him directly in his eyes and gave him the angry look. This is the only thing that works, they see thousands everyday, and are looking for weak or tired people or those, whom in their training, have something to hide. This means when some security people ask you dumb querstions, answer them and look them directly in their eyes and put all your anger in that stare, and they wont bother you. And if they check your luggage, make sure that you closely monitor them, trust no one but yourself.

  • 4. Jehan  |  April 19, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Yes Jamal I have faced the “secure room” and the hours or wait at a US airport and I simply hated it, but I don’t expect the same paranoid treatment in my own home town. That is all I am saying.

    I understand the need for security but not for intimidation or the presumption of guilt just because I am from a particular region or profess a certain faith. And then we speak of human rights. ,sigh>

  • 5. Hasan Mubarak  |  April 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    The picture that you’ve chosen for this blog-post actually says it all. Thanks to global power puppeteers, a mass hysteria has been created to scare people out of their skin and make them gradually and voluntarily surrender their privacy and freedoms in the name of national/international security. Airport security is one thing, have you noticed how intimidating security blockades on our roads are… Do they really serve any positive purpose other than multiplying the sense of insecurity in our cities.

  • 6. Intimidation on home soil! | Tea Break  |  April 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    […] Intimidation on home soil! […]

  • 7. Finance Trainer  |  April 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm


    This is the Anti Narcotics team that checks out going traffic for drug mules and carriers. Adnan Haider had a similar experience with them about a year ago. The initimadating look is part of their profile. Think of them as the ATF and DEA combo in Pakistan.

    They are a regular feature in the commons check in area and generally a surprise in the Fast Track option but still around. They get really suspicious if you skip them which is what I did the very first time. Your best bet is to tell them you run the local technology industry association and are going for a conference. I generally get away lightly because I dress like a bum and am always travelling to run a training workshop for the banking industry.


  • 8. Khawar Nehal  |  April 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Well the security procedure globally is to intimidate to see if the person flinches. If they get irritated then check in detail (which is what you did).
    There is no other way for security people to check all types of people for everything so the freak you out factor is the best route.
    People like us who know security actually offer to assist them in their search and they politely and promptly allow passage.
    If you are taking anything that looks unusual, you definitely need to be clam and not ask any question as to what the problem is. The only problem they know is that you are getting irritated on the checking. Hence the detailed checks.

    I hope this helps you in your future travels. If you wish to be comfortable, try to get your bags plastic wrapped where available so the baggage handlers know you want your stuff left alone.


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