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November 14,2010

Cabinet bypassed in granting visas to US officials

ISLAMABAD: The recent extraordinary leniency shown in issuing visas to the American officials was the consequence of President Asif Ali Zardari’s personal desire and without the approval of the federal cabinet while the prime minister merely went along as the Presidency wanted.
The policy has started pinching many in the Foreign Office and security agencies, as too many visas are being issued by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington without any security clearance. The FO is expected to revisit the policy to ensure that all the Americans visiting Pakistan pose no security risk to the country.
A senior Foreign Office source revealed that after the implementation of the new policy, which empowered the Pakistani Embassy in Washington to issue visas to the Americans for one year without referring their cases to Pakistani authorities, about 400 visas were issued to the US citizens in just first two days including the weekend.
Amid reports of national and international media about the presence of innumerable Blackwater and Dynacor personnel, the Pakistani authorities have been seeking proper screening of the American visitors to protect their national interests.
The FO source revealed that in the first six weeks of the new policy, the number of visas issued by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington was almost equal to the number of visas issued in six months prior to the implementation of the new policy.
Sharing the details the source said that from January 1, 2010 to July 14, 2010, a total of 1895 officials and diplomats were issued visas in Washington. All these visas were issued following the clearance of the visa seekers by the Pakistani security agencies.
However, following the implementation of the new policy on July 14, 2010 Pakistani Embassy in Washington issued visas to 1,445 applicants in six weeks. Out of the 1,445 US citizens, 862 were declared as US diplomats and officials.
Foreign Ministry sources also revealed that the policy was introduced only after the FO was directed to offer these extraordinary concessions to the Americans.
On the contrary, the Pakistanis desirous of visiting America including parliamentarians, senior politicians and even ministers have to wait for weeks and months to get the visa, which is issued only if such persons are cleared by US Homeland Security Administration.
Only recently Maulana Fazlur Rehman was offloaded at Dubai Airport after he was refused the visa to the US despite an earlier promise that he would get the visa in Dubai.
Although under the Constitution of Pakistan all such matters fall in the domain of the prime minister and his cabinet, a Foreign Office letter clearly shows that the visa policy was revised to the advantage of the Americans on the desire of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on July 14, 2010, wrote to the prime minister’s Principal Secretary Ms Nargis Sethi and sought change in the policy. The operative part of the letter said: “In order to address the issue of visas for US diplomats/officials/defence personnel, the president had desired that since Ambassador in Washington was authorized to issue visas up to three months validity his authority might be increased to one year.”
The Foreign Secretary added: “The prime minister’s kind approval to the proposed increase in the authority of the Ambassador in Washington to issue visas up to one year validity is requested.”
Amazingly, the prime minister’s office without referring the matter to the cabinet issued orders for the issuance of the new policy the same day it received the proposal from the FO.
Issued with the signatures of Nargis Sethi, the new policy letter reads: “Under the existing visa policy for official US visitors to Pakistan, the Ambassador in Washington is empowered to issue entry visas for restricted period to the US officials who have been recommended in writing by the concerned US authority i.e. the Department of State with duly completed application forms, it is clearly indicated for what purposes they intend to travel to Pakistan.
2. The prime minister has been pleased to decide that the Ambassador in Washington will be empowered, with immediate effect, to issue visas valid up to one year without referring each such aforementioned visa application to the concerned authorities in Pakistan.”
3. The Pakistan Embassy in US would issue these visas under intimation to the Prime Minister’s office, in Islamabad.”
It is relevant to mention here that in a parliamentary form of government like the one we are supposed to have in Pakistan, the president remains a figurehead while all the executive functions and government decisions are taken by the prime minister and his cabinet.
President Asif Ali Zardari’s interference in the executive’s functions, his verbal or written directions to different government departments or chairing meetings of different departments is neither in line with the constitution of the country nor follows the democratic traditions being followed in other democratic countries including India and Britain.

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