Visas for US diplomats

Here is a piece that appeared in The News today. While one may not wholly agree to the contents and it is difficult to say how much element of truth is there in the story, it is worth reading.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010
By Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat

According to reports in the media, President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered the Foreign Office to change the visa policy for American diplomats and facilitate them to visit Pakistan.

Now Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has been authorised to issue visas to Americans, diplomats or whosoever comes in their guise, for one year without scrutiny. Earlier, Haqqani, who does not represent Pakistan’s Foreign Service, used to grant three-month visas in consultation with the Foreign Office.

Reports say that Haqqani is now facilitating some 652 Americans to come to Pakistan. Most of them, one figure suggests around 400, could be US security personnel. On the other hand, it has been reported the US has granted only 35 visas to Pakistani diplomats.

The development has serious dimensions and could have grave consequences for Pakistan’s national security.First, the visas have been given on express authority of the president, while ignoring both the Foreign Office and relevant security apparatus. It is not known how many of the 652 Americans comprise CIA personnel, representatives of infamous XE or Blackwater, those covertly representing Mossad or other US agencies involved in espionage.

Second, the decision will create a gulf between the Foreign Office and the PPP-led government, which has been ignoring professional advice and implementing decisions that sometimes are not in the national interest. Third, the PPP government has totally ignored the fact that Pakistan does not need such a large number of American diplomats and other personnel.

American officials say that aid workers and others being sent to Pakistan will bring help. US diplomats admit the additional deployment may increase the strength of the US embassy staff from about 500 to nearly 800. However, the figure of 300 is excessive and is no way related to the aid projects under the Kerry Lugar bill.

Fourth, the decision will pave the way for more unpleasant and undiplomatic incidents involving the Americans in the country. There have been several incidents recently where American diplomats were found carrying guns, using fake number plates on vehicles, abusing Pakistani officials and common people. Now with 600 more Americans in Islamabad and other cities, such incidents could increase.

One wonders why Mr Husain Haqqani, the erstwhile Pakistan envoy in Washington, is in such a hurry to grant visas to US nationals. Last year, Mr Haqqani had written a letter to the Pakistan Foreign Office, saying: “Denying Pakistani visas to US nationals besides harassing them, has adversely distorted Pakistan image and heavy costs will have to be paid in exchange of such events.”

There is no harassment of US diplomats as has been claimed in the letter. Unfortunately, US officials have also been claiming that their diplomats are being harassed in Pakistan. That has never been the case. One complaint is about checking of vehicles. It is understood that all vehicles are stopped at checkpoints, including those of US diplomats. There have been several attacks on installations in Islamabad, so the checking is necessary.

Also, it has been claimed that Pakistan is stopping visas as punitive action against American NGO or media personalities. That has never been the case. Every country has the right to restrict visas to those it believes are not involved in unduly criticising its policies or is a threat to its interests. Even the United States follows this policy. It is apparent that unilateral steps by the government to grant visas to American nationals or others should be stopped as it could have an impact on Pakistan’s national security.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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