Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was taken off a U.S.-bound flight at Toronto airport on Friday afternoon (local time) and questioned for about an hour before being permitted to continue with his journey to New York for a fund-raiser.
According to reports in the Canadian media, Mr. Khan — who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which has been opposing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and drone attacks inside Pakistan — was taken off an American Airlines flight at the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
After the questioning, Mr. Khan himself tweeted about what happened. In his tweet, he said: “I was taken off from plane and interrogated by U.S. Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” In the process, he missed his flight and could not make it to the fund-raising lunch in New York in time.
The Toronto Sun quoted U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) as refusing to divulge information on the interrogation, citing privacy laws. One CBP spokesperson said: “Our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people, and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals and contraband. Under U.S. immigration law, applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States. In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”
Meanwhile, as word reached home and PTI supporters began using the social media aggressively to protest the U.S. action, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington, Sherry Rehman, informed that “the Embassy was immediately in touch with the State Department over the holding of Imran Khan at U.S. immigration”.
Some organisations in the U.S. and Canada had objected to Mr. Khan’s visit on the ground that he was pro-Taliban. His fund-raising visit had raised several eyebrows with people commenting on how he could oppose U.S. and its aid while visiting that very country to collect money for his party and political activities that ride on anti-Americanism.
His supporters on the other hand demanded an apology from the U.S., pointing out that it had expressed regret when Indian actor Shahrukh Khan was detained at an American airport. In fact, a line from one of his films “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist” was trending as news broke of the cricketer-politician’s detention.