WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (UPI) — The U.S. Justice Department’s detention last week of Pakistani journalist and Brooking Institution visiting scholar Ejaz Haider, for violating immigration rules that call for the registration of Pakistani citizens in the United States, raises significant issues for other think tanks.
The detention of Haider — a respected news editor and columnist for The Friday Times, Pakistan’s most prestigious weekly — has caused outrage in Washington foreign policy and diplomacy circles.
The incident has also had a chilling effect at Brookings, which has a robust program for international fellows.
“It is something the institution is very concerned with,” Brookings spokesman Colin Johnson told United Press International. “It obviously is a really unfortunate situation.”
Arrested outside the think tank on Jan. 28, Haider was released following a call from Brookings’ president and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to Assistant Secretary of State Christine Rocca to request Haider’s discharge.
The Pakistani foreign minister, who was visiting Washington at the time, raised the matter in meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft last week.
Justice Department officials did not return calls for comment but have said previously that Haider may have deliberately ignored the registration rules as a protest. A spokesman for the agency cited Haider’s vocal opposition to the program, and several critical articles Haider has written about it.
Haider registered with the Immigration and Naturalization Service when he first arrived to the United States by plane last October and was advised to report to an agency office in 30 to 40 days for a follow-up interview. However, he says that in subsequent phone discussions with INS officials he was told there was no need for a second interview.
His registration is mandated under polices enacted last year requiring male visitors from 25 mostly Muslim nations, including Pakistan, to register with the INS upon their initial arrival in the United States, and to check back with officials periodically as long as they remain in the country. In addition, visitors from those countries who are already in residence are required to register with the agency.
Stephen Cohen, director of the South Asian studies program at Brookings, told UPI that Haider’s detention was a serious mistake that reflects bad policy decisions on the part of the Bush administration.
Cohen said that foreign analysts provide an important perspective to the American foreign policy establishment because they have first hand experience in important regions, but that the INS policies are bound to drive many potential foreign scholars away.
“They have great experiences on issues that face American society,” he said. “It is great to have their view, even if we don’t agree with them.”
Cohen added that that he is already seeing a freeze developing in the flow of scholars and analysts to the United States from Pakistan.
“He (Haider) is in fact the third Pakistani journalist of that caliber who I know of that has been deeply disturbed by his treatment here,” he said. “I know of three people who, when they came into the country, were unduly harassed by the INS.”
Cohen also said that he knows of a former very senior Pakistani official who had previously planned to come to a program in Washington but who has now decided not to come.
“He didn’t want to risk being humiliated or undergoing the embarrassment of what has happened to others,” said Cohen.
Cohen’s view — that the INS policy will have a chilling effect on the recruitment of foreign scholars — is not universally shared by analysts and think tanks around Washington.
Jay Farrar, vice president for external affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the INS policy has had no impact on CSIS’s effort to recruit the small number of foreign scholars hosted by the think tank.
“If you do the required paperwork and you are diligent, there is no impact,” said Farrar. “The paperwork has always been a requirement.”
He added that CSIS has not seen any change in interest from oversees scholars wanting to come to the think tank.
John Harrington, associate dean of academic affairs and the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, known as SAIS, said changes in the INS regulations affecting foreign visitors simply reflect the reality of the world we now live in.
“It is very true that we are very sensitive to this issue,” he said. “But as long as you follow those rules, the process as far as I can tell seems to be working. I think that so far, in terms of bringing in visiting scholars or bringing in foreign students, the impact has been really modest.”
However, Harrington agreed that the Haider incident and the INS policies could develop into a factor that would keep foreigners from seeking scholar appointments in the United States. He said that one medium-sized hurdle that has developed due to the INS policy is that the process of securing visas for foreign students and scholars, which used to take weeks, is now taking months, a factor that has been worked into SAIS staffing processes.
“The big issue now is the amount of time it takes for people from certain parts of the world to get their visas,” said Harrington. “Everything has to now be planned more in advance. Even European students are now taking longer to get their visas.”
But SAIS has yet to try and bring over someone from the Middle East or a country under special scrutiny since the INS changes were enacted. Harrington said he expected, from SAIS’s experience so far, that such an effort to be problematic.
Several conservative foreign policy scholars said privately that the uproar over the Haider incident and related INS policies is misguided because although there are negative implications, the INS’s actions will ultimately be just another foreign policy mistake with which the Bush administration must deal.
“This is just another hiccup,” said one analyst.
The same analyst added that many of the foreign policy scholars at Brookings and other liberal-leaning think tanks in Washington who are up in arms over this incident share a similar perspective. He noted that they often were educated in the same five universities on the east coast (such as Harvard and Columbia), have gone to work at the same think tanks, and many served together in the Clinton administration.
“This is just groupthink,” he said. “It is why I think it hit them with a resounding thud.”
Cohen, who served in the administration of President Ronald Reagan and voted for George W. Bush, said he believes the actions taken against Haider were an “extraordinary corruption of the process.”
“I am not flaming liberal in any sense,” he said. “I don’t think it (our response) is overwrought. I think only a know-nothing would make that kind of statement.”
Cohen added that the incident also has negative consequences for America foreign policy because radical Islamists are gloating over it and saying it proves that America is their enemy.
“In South Asia, this is great material for exactly the kind of people we are most worried about,” he said.