Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yousuf Raza authorised Ambassador to issue visas to US citizens without security clearance by Pakistan

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had authorized the Pakistan Ambassador in Washington to issue visas to US citizens without clearance by security agencies in Pakistan and more than 500 such visas were issued in three days, documents with The News reveal.
Prime Minister Pakistan

The strength of the US Mission in Islamabad has also not only swollen from 280 to about 1,000, including CIA personnel, without any agreement between the two governments nor has the US Embassy provided a list of its officials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is a common protocol worldwide.

According to a document of the Ministry of Interior that the News has procured as a part of its investigation: “The Prime Minister has been pleased to direct that the Ambassador in Washington will be empowered, with immediate effect, to issue visas valid up to one year without the Embassy having to refer the aforementioned visa applications to the concerned authorities in Pakistan.” The letter further says, “The Pakistan Embassy in US would issue these visas under intimation to the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad.”

Within three days of issuance of this letter, Pakistan’s ambassador in the US issued visas to 500 US officials. Why he was in such a rush has not been explained but sources in the FM say the practice has continued.

The News has procured the list of 436 US officials, who were issued visas in July, 2010. The purpose of visits is shown to be “official business”, “assignment”, “NGO Duty”, “USAID”, “US Army assignment” and “Dyncorps”. It is worth mentioning that due to various security and travel advisories issued by the US State Department, hardly any US businessman or common citizen has visited Pakistan in recent months. For any business deals, Pakistani counterparts are invited to the UAE or other countries in case a meeting is desired by US nationals. The PM’s letter empowering the ambassador flouted the visa policy formulated only months before its issuance. The US Embassy in Islamabad is already undergoing large scale expansion. Well-placed sources in Islamabad have said that the Capital Development Authority has sold 8.2 acres of land (164 kanals) at the rate of US$500 per square yard without bringing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the loop.

The US Embassy is already occupying a vast area of 31.9 acres in Diplomatic Enclave. Initially, in March 2009, the US Embassy tried to acquire 18.5 acres of additional land at nominal rates by directly negotiating with the CDA and without the concurrence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Out of this land, 10 acres of land was located outside the Diplomatic Enclave. It was actually in the green belt and the CDA had offered that land on lease at the rate of Rs 15,000 per square yard. On the observation and interference of the concerned authorities, however, the allocation of 18.5 acres of land to US Embassy was stopped and only 8.5 acres of land at the rate of US$1,000 per square yard was offered.

In October, 2010, the US Embassy again approached Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CDA for the allotment of 8.2 acres of land at the rate of US$500 per square yard.

According to sources, the CDA has accepted the request without bringing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on board. Some of the government officials are also said to be assisting the US in furthering its agenda of expansion by bypassing routine channels. It remains a million dollar question as to why the US Embassy is undergoing such a large expansion without following normal diplomatic protocols.

According to sources, the US Embassy has already undertaken massive construction and it has plans to enhance its control of Diplomatic Enclave. It has already funded building three gates and wants to appoint guards from a security agency. Security cameras and vehicle scanners are also being installed at the gates besides setting up five check posts on the road leading to US Embassy. Sources said 500 foreigners are also likely to come to Pakistan in the garb of labourers.

In Karachi, a huge fortress-like complex on 20.5 acres of land with latest facilities has been constructed for the US Consulate General. It is said that the place will be used as US base for activities in Sindh and Balochistan. According to sources, the US is acquiring land at Gwadar, Quetta and Multan for establishing its consulates.

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