ISLAMABAD: As the controversy over a letter issued by then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani’s office in July 2010 empowering then Pakistan ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani to directly issue visas to Americans continues to simmer, it was disclosed at a meeting on Monday that the arbitrary letter had been withdrawn by the incumbent government in 2014.
The controversial letter found a mention during the meeting held to evolve a mechanism to keep tabs on all aliens visiting Pakistan. It was presided over by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
A senior official of the interior ministry confirmed that the letter had been withdrawn on the directives of Chaudhry Nisar. He said thousands of Americans had been issued diplomatic visas by Mr Haqqani bypassing normal verification procedures to check the credentials of applicants.
Asked if the interior ministry could annul the orders originating from the PM Office, he said the inherently flawed authorisation would have been reversed with the verbal consent of the incumbent prime minister.
“Under the existing visa policy for official US visitors to Pakistan, the Ambassador in Washington is empowered to issue entry visas for restricted periods to US officials who have been recommended in writing by the concerned US authority i.e. the department of state and whose duly completed application forms, it is clearly indicated for what purposes they intend to travel to Pakistan.
“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 Embassy having to refer each aforementioned visa applications to the concerned authorities in Pakistan. The Pakistan embassy in US would issue these visas under intimation to the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad,” reads a letter issued with the signatures of then-prime minister’s principle secretary Nargis Sethi.
It has so far remained a mystery if the authorisation still holds the field. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz recently disclosed that the Pakistan ambassador in Washington had been authorised to directly issue visas to the Americans, but stopped short of revealing that whether the controversial orders issued on July 14, 2010, were still being acted upon or had been withdrawn.
During Monday’s meeting, the interior minister directed the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to establish a centralised digital databank for issuance of visas to all foreigners through Pakistani missions abroad.
The mechanism, he said, would help the foreigners get an online appointment for any category of visas for travelling to Pakistan. At the same time, it will bring transparency and clarity to the system.
The meeting was attended by Interior Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan, Nadra Chairman Usman Yusuf Mobeen, the Air Wing director general and senior officials of the interior ministry.
Chaudhry Nisar said the digital databank of visa appointments and visa issuance mechanism would help the state keep a check on all aliens visiting the country. He said there was still a need to make the whole exercise more transparent.
The minister said that a lot of measures had been taken over the past three years to ensure that no alien entered Pakistan without proper documents. He ordered Nadra to develop an online system for issuance of visas so that everything came on record and there was absolutely no space for irregularity.
Future of Air Wing
The meeting also discussed the future of interior ministry’s Air Wing. “Air cover of the Ministry of Interior is for its fight against terrorism, militancy, extremism and drug-peddlers in the most sensitive areas across Pak-Afghan border and specifically in Balochistan, and it has been a source of great support for our security forces in this respect,” Chaudhry Nisar said.
He directed his ministry to prepare a plan whereby “the Air Wing continues to provide its support to our security agencies post 2017”.
The minister barred Nadra from taking buildings on rent and purchasing land on commercial rates for setting up its offices. He directed Nadra to review the rates given to private contractors for renovation of its centres across the country.
The minister gave the authority one week to frame new rules and regulations regarding hiring of contractors and for settling their rates for construction/renovation.
He said Nadra should approach the provincial governments for purchasing land for its offices on government rates.
National Technology Limited, a software company established by Nadra, was also shut down on the orders of the interior minister. The minister said the NTL was a source of financial misappropriation, adding that its closure would not affect Nadra’s international commitments as requisite amendments would be made to address the authority’s international obligations and contracts with foreign institutions and countries.