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Op-Ed

Kidnapped: My Friend in Pakistan and American Ideals

You have not read this in the news before.

Three months ago, an American citizen was kidnapped in Northwest Pakistan. He was murdered. His body was just recently recovered by his bereaved family. I learned about the kidnapping shortly after it happened, when my dear friend Ayesha wrote to tell me that her brother, Imran, had been abducted in Northwest Pakistan, still bravely expecting him to be recovered.

Ayesha and I had first met in 1999 as co-workers at our office in Washington D.C. on 17th and K Street after she had graduated from Georgetown University. We worked together on projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the part of our government that gives out overseas development assistance. Since 9/11, the United States has spent more than $10 billion dollars on aid to Pakistan — two thirds military, one third economic development — with mediocre results.

Ayesha and I became close friends. Friends because back then there were so few American Muslims working in the policy community in Washington. Friends because we both retained an interest in improving the lives of, and the U.S. relationship with, the people from the vast region of the Middle East and South Asia that our families had emigrated from — hers from Pakistan, mine from Lebanon.

I moved on to work on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. Ayesha went on to Harvard to more fruitful pastures to earn a master’s degree in education and ultimately returned to Pakistan to pursue her dream of working to improve the state of education for the children of Pakistan. One of the pluses, she told me when she decided to move to Pakistan, was to be closer to her brother Imran and her two nephews.

The presence of Ayesha, a highly successful American Muslim with a graduate degree in education from Harvard, in one of Pakistan’s more conservative areas to work on improving Pakistan’s education system could only bolster the image of America as a fair playing field on which American Muslims can succeed.

But her individual contribution to U.S.-Pakistan relations clearly wasn’t enough.

While Ayesha and I were corresponding about the kidnapping of her brother, I suggested engaging the U.S. Government and offered, through the relationships I had developed over my years working with Washington’s officialdom, to try to help engage the United States at a high level. Despite my persistence, Ayesha, after careful reflection, thought it better to not involve our government.

Why? Because she felt that the chances of negotiating her brother’s release alive with criminals, terrorists or both were higher if the U.S. government, loathed on the local scene, was kept out of the picture and local channels handled the matter.

While the true motives of the kidnapping and murder remain unclear, what is clear to me is this: Ayesha and her family felt that when push came to shove, the local Pakistani officials had better stature from which to approach the kidnappers than our own government.

What little solace Ayesha and Imran’s family can feel at this moment can only, I believe, be found in the fact that evidence now shows that Imran was murdered probably the day after his abduction. They do not have to second-guess themselves about their response.

But I can feel no solace whatsoever. My government has conducted itself in such a manner that in places where we were once admired for our ideals, we are so loathed for our hypocrisy that our own citizens, when their lives are on the line, feel it safer to engage the help of local officials instead of the mighty U.S. government.

Whose fault is this? I can only blame myself, my fellow citizens, and our elected representatives in Washington for conducting ourselves in such a way-voting to go to war in Iraq on flimsy evidence, not reacting more harshly to the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, allowing the perpetual detention of prisoners held mostly without charge in Guantanamo Bay for half a decade now-that our actions are indefensible, our reputation is severely damaged, and our ability to defend our citizens is non-existent.

When I was born in April 1967, America was admired across the Muslim world as the shining light on the hill breathing hope for a positive future. Today, we are loathed and distrusted by huge majorities from the eastern shores of the Atlantic to the western shores for the Pacific, from sea to shining sea. Something, something at home, has got to change.

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