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Pakistani Politician Interrogated by US Officials in Canada Before Flight


Scheduled to attend two fundraisers in New York City, Imran Khan faced questioning about his stance on U.S. drone strikes, he said.

Imran Khan fundraiser

Imran Khan addresses a crowd of supporters at a Long Island City fundraiser Friday. Credit: MOHAMMAD ASIF

Updated Oct. 28, 2012, with response from the State Department.

Popular Pakistani politician Imran Khan was removed from his plane in a Toronto airport on Friday and says he was questioned by U.S. officials about his outspoken opposition to American drone strikes in his country. Khan was traveling to New York City to attend two fundraisers for the political party founded by the former cricket hero-turned-political reformer.

After an hourlong inquiry by U.S. officials, he was given permission to take the next flight to New York, according to leaders of Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

“I was taken off from plane and interrogated by U.S. Immigration in Canada on my views on drones” Khan tweeted at 3:35 p.m. Friday. “My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” He later updated his Twitter followers that he had missed his flight and wouldn’t make it to the first of his planned New York fundraisers, scheduled in Yonkers, but added, “Nothing will change my stance.”

On Saturday, a State Department spokesperson confirmed that Khan was questioned in Toronto before he was given permission to enter the country. “The issue was resolved,” she told Global City NYC in a statement. “Mr. Khan is welcome in the United States.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told the Toronto Star on Friday that they could not divulge information about Khan’s questioning because privacy laws prevent them from discussing a particular case.

Some of Khan’s detractors, who have criticized his position on drone strikes and called him “Taliban Khan,” had urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier in the week to deny Khan a visa in advance of his trip to New York. Khan had previously announced that he would lead a protest at the United Nations against U.S. drone strikes on Friday, but those plans were cancelled because they would conflict with the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Adha. (See Global City NYC’s previous coverage, “Controversial Pakistani Pol Imran Khan to Visit New York.“)

Khan recounted his interrogation at the Toronto airport to the crowd of a few hundred in Long Island City on Friday night. “He asked me, ‘Are you against drones? Are you against America?’” Khan said. “I said whoever defends drones is against America, because they’re causing hatred against America. … Terrorism is on the rise because of drones. It’s benefitting the militants.”

Supporters of Khan and his party, known as PTI, were waiting at JFK airport to escort him to Yonkers when they heard the news that he had been removed from his American Airlines flight in Canada.

“It’s a very tough situation,” said Zaman Afridi, 52, a PTI member coordinator from Brooklyn who, along with fellow party members, frantically made his way to Laguardia airport to meet Khan’s later flight. “That was sad and unfair, because a leader like that should not be detained.”

Upon landing in the evening, Khan was taken directly to Long Island City for the second of his planned events, which supporters paid from $100 to $3,000 to attend. A donation of $1,000 or more earned attendees a cricket bat autographed by the World Cup-winning captain.

Khan promised the crowd that PTI would fight for economic development in Pakistan and independence from foreign influence. He regularly urges his government to forego U.S. aid, saying it makes Pakistan dependent on the superpower, thus causing the nation’s government to act against its own people’s interests.

If Khan is elected prime minister in the upcoming Pakistani elections, scheduled for March, he said, “We will never beg for money. If we didn’t beg, then what happens to us at airports would never happen.”

Abbas Hashmi of Soundview Broadcast, the venue that hosted the fundraiser, agreed with Khan that Pakistanis bear responsibility for how they’re treated abroad because they don’t stand up for themselves at home. “As a nation, this happens to all of us,” the 34-year-old said. “Rather than pointing fingers at others for stopping us, we should look inward.”

Waqas Ashraf and his wife Zeba were among the Khan fans who attended Friday night’s event. They had tried to meet the former cricketer twice in the past, but had failed when events he was scheduled to appear at were canceled. When they heard about Khan’s delay in Canada, Ashraf said, “I’m like, there you go — I’m not going to see him again.”

But the third time was the charm for Ashraf, who drove all the way from south Jersey. “I think it was because of the blessings of Eid that I finally got to see him,” he said, smiling.


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