ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed that part of its past record of official correspondence of Pakistan with the US, China and ex-USSR is untraceable.
The ministry wrote this in response to an order issued by the Pakistan Information Commission following an appeal filed by Shabir Awan, who requested for information at the first place from the MoFA under Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
The part of queries (point 5-8) requested by Shabir Awan available with ‘The News’ which the MoFA claimed to be untraceable was: “5) Kindly provide me the certified copies of the following, 6) Correspondence between Pakistan and the USSR from 1948 to December 1949, 7) The correspondence between Pakistan and the USSR as well as Pakistan and the USA related to the U2 incident of 1960 and 8) Correspondence of Pakistan with the USSR, USA and China from April 1971 to October 1971.”
In response to the order of PIC, the MoFA, on September 21, wrote to the PIC in which it said, “Having thoroughly looked into the records at archives section and relevant territorial divisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the documents mentioned at Para 5-8 are untraceable. However, sufficient time may be required to provide a definitive response.”
On August 24, an order was issued by the PIC in response to an appeal filed by Shabir Awan against the MoFA for not submitting any response to the request made under the Right of Information Act 2017.
Shabir wrote that he submitted an information request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 25, 2022 under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 but did not receive any response from the public body.
The information sought by the appellant was, “1) What mechanism has been devised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide access to its archives i.e. how public can access these archives? When reference is made public, it may include but not limited to academicians, media fraternity, researchers, and civil Society. 2) Is there a bifurcation between classified and declassified archival material? 3) In case of affirmative answer to the above question, which type of documents have been declassified and from which date/year? 4) The archival material is in only paper form /hard copy or the soft format has also been prepared? 5) Kindly provide me the certified copies of the following: 6) Correspondence between Pakistan and the USSR from 1948 to December 1949. 7) The correspondence between Pakistan and the USSR as well as Pakistan and the USA related to the U2 incident of 1960. 8) Correspondence of Pakistan with the USSR, USA and China from April 1971 to October 1971.”
Highlighting the importance of the requested information and its need, the commission in its order stated that the requested information pertains to a matter of public importance and its disclosure is warranted both by the letter and spirit of the Act, 2017. The document present with ‘The News’ further states that the appellant has sought access to old records and the disclosure of these records is warranted under Section 16 (1) (k) of the Act, 2017.
The document reads, “The disclosure of the requested records is of public importance on two counts. One, the 14 requested records will shed light on the factors that led to the formulation of the foreign policy of the nascent state. Two, as the requested records are more than fifty years old, the retrieval of these records would show how records are maintained by the respondent and whether or not it needs to take remedial measures with regard to the proper maintenance of its records. Furthermore, the disclosure of the requested information will demonstrate as to what mechanism the respondent has put in place for archiving of the records as well as de-classification of old records under the provisions of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.
The record on the file showed that the respondent did not submit its response to the notice of this commission on April 29, 2022. Hearing on the instant appeal was fixed for August 11, 2022 vide letter on July 18, 2022 but the respondent failed to attend the hearing, reads the order by the PIC available with ‘The News’.
“In the instant appeal, the record on the file showed that the respondent demonstrated utter disregard to the provisions of the Act, 2017,” said the order, maintaining, “The appeal is allowed. The respondent is directed to provide the appellant certified copies of the records/information requested in para 2 of this order within seven working days of the receipt of this order and submit compliance report to this effect to this commission. Copies of this order be sent to the respondent and the appellant for information and necessary action.”
Following this order, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the PIC on September 21, stating, “The archived record of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inter alia contains sensitive official material pertaining to contentious and strategic issues whose exposure could undermine Pakistan’s national interest and relations with foreign countries. This material is located in a high security block inside the premises of MoFA, to which access is limited. Furthermore, the requested information, particularly at paragraph 5 to 8 (of the request), if disclosed is likely to cause damage to the interests of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations in terms of Section 16 of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.”
Answering each of the eight queries requested by Shabir Awan, the response from the MoFA stated, “1) Compilation of comprehensive SOPs for access to the archives of MoFA is under consideration. These SOPs shall be shared with the PIC as and when approved. 2&3) The matter shall be determined by appropriate authority once the SOPs are finalised. 4) The archived record is in hard copy format. However, some record has been microfilmed. 5-8) Having thoroughly looked into the records at archives section and relevant territorial divisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the documents mentioned at Para 5-8 of I/n of FR are untraceable. However, sufficient time may be required to provide a definitive response subject to finalisation/implementation of the above-mentioned SOPs.”
This correspondent contacted Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar but the official did not respond when questioned if the record of correspondence of Pakistan with the respective countries was lost or why did they say that it was untraceable.
‘The News’ also reached out to Muhammad Umar Sheikh, Assistant Director Spokesperson MoFA, but sadly, he also did not respond when questioned, however, he assured the correspondent of an official reply from the ministry but the correspondent was provided no response yet.
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