WASHINGTON: Former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said on Friday that he had consulted both the civil and military security wings in the embassy before issuing visas to US officials.
A document released to the media earlier on Friday showed that former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had authorised Mr Haqqani to issue year-long visas to US officials without clearance from Islamabad.
Mr Haqqani did not say if he had issued visas without informing the government but did state that he had consulted security personnel at the embassy before approving the applications.
“I have consistently said no unauthorised visas were issued by the embassy in Washington while I was the ambassador,” he wrote in an email to Dawn.
Haqqani says Gillani’s 2010 letter was ‘essentially a general executive order’
The former ambassador, like Pakistan Peoples Party leaders in Pakistan, also said that “the real issue” was “not issuance of visas to US officials but [Al Qaeda chief] Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan”.
Also read: Haqqani’s article revives tale of OBL raid
He said the document released to the media vindicated his position on the issue, “including my assertion that the military wing of the embassy was involved in vetting of visas to the US officials”.
Mr Haqqani advised those “making a mountain out of a molehill” to stop doing so and “examine institutional failings rather than blaming an individual unfairly”.
The document leaked — a letter sent to the embassy in Washington with the signatures of then prime minister’s principal secretary Nargis Sethi — showed that the authorisation to issue one-year visas to US officials without consulting Islamabad came from the office of the prime minister.
“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 application 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,” Ms Sethi wrote.
Although the content of the letter indicated that Mr Haqqani had the discretion to ignore the normal procedure for issuing officials visas, he said he did not do so. “No visas were issued without proper procedure and vetting involving security agencies. Period,” he wrote.
Mr Haqqani said the prime minister Gillani’s July (14), 2010 letter was “essentially a general executive order” establishing procedure and authorising the ambassador to issue visas requested by the US State Department without referral to Islamabad.
“Upon receiving that authorisation, the internal embassy system was to delegate scrutiny to Defence Attache’s office and Counsellor representing interior ministry,” he wrote.
The former ambassador said that since the May 2, 2011 US raid that killed Osama in Abbottabad, he had repeatedly asserted that “a) no unauthorised visas were given and, b) scrutiny process may have changed but both major intelligence agencies remained involved in issuance of all visas to US officials”.
Mr Haqqani said he would not get into how, why and what prime minister Gillani wrote in that letter because “it’s a fake issue”.
“Instead of wasting time on procedures for issuing visas to officials of an ally and aid donor, Pakistan’s media should do its job in focusing on how OBL lived in Pakistan for so long.”
Mr Haqqani said that those who were whipping up this controversy also knew that visas had been issued to US officials under one procedure or another since 1947 and would continue to be issued.
“All branches of the Pakistan government, civil and military, maintain close ties with their counterparts in Washington and none has ever officially objected to US officials travelling to Pakistan,” he added.
In a March 10 article in the Washington Post, Mr Haqqani said that his ‘connections’ with the Obama administration enabled the US to target and kill the Al Qaeda leader.
He wrote that the friends he made in the Obama presidential election campaign team were “able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan”.
Explaining how he responded to those requests, the former ambassador wrote: “I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved (and)… these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”
His claims started a major controversy in Pakistan about his and the former PPP government’s role in the US raid. Although debated repeatedly in parliament and the media, the controversy refuses to go away.