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Anywhere but US, say Pak emigrants

A series of international terrorism incidents linked to Pakistanis, including a failed car bombing this month in Times Square, has prompted many Pakistanis who once had deep ties to the US to look elsewhere for work, education and travel. It has also left some Pakistani Americans feeling uneasy in their adopted homeland.

world Updated: May 24, 2010 23:58 IST

A series of international terrorism incidents linked to Pakistanis, including a failed car bombing this month in Times Square, has prompted many Pakistanis who once had deep ties to the US to look elsewhere for work, education and travel. It has also left some Pakistani Americans feeling uneasy in their adopted homeland.

The stress of living under suspicion has had a palpable effect, Pakistani American community leaders say.

Travel agents say bookings between Pakistan and the United States are down, and U.S. visa applications for travel from Pakistan appear to be dwindling.

Though the US government has ended a policy implemented after an attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing that involved extra scrutiny for travelers from 14 countries, including Pakistan, many Pakistanis still feel they are being watched.

Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad “has put us all in this situation where everyone will look at us Pakistani Americans and wonder if they have any connection,” said Shaista Mahmood, 54, a community leader who lives in Mount Vernon.

In Pakistan, increased scrutiny of visas and more stringent US airport searches have exacerbated feelings of rejection and discomfort.

Many Pakistanis say they do not want to travel to the US anymore, whether to study, visit relatives or take once-desirable jobs.

Anger and anxiety

“All these US policies have given a whole generation of Pakistanis the psyche that the United States doesn’t want us,” said Arsalan Ishtiaq, a visa adviser in the city of Rawalpindi who has not received a single US student visa inquiry in two years.

“Not only is it much harder to get a visa now, but the few who do get them worry they may get in trouble or implicated in something if they go.”

A dozen technology students in Islamabad and Rawalpindi who once would have given anything to work in the United States said they were instead seeking jobs in Britain, Australia, Canada or the United Arab Emirates.

Several said they had heard about humiliating searches at US airports and spoke angrily of Pakistanis being branded as Islamist radicals.

The Times Square incident, they said, was the last straw.

The Times Square incident has generated hundreds of comments by bloggers, columnists and others in Pakistan.

Some were perplexed and angry that an apparently successful Pakistani American might be connected to the bomb plot; others warned of new crackdowns and humiliations.

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