Visa controversy is a non-issue: Gilani
Clarifying the PPP’s position on the controversy surrounding the issuance of over two thousand visas to US citizens, allegedly after bypassing proper channels, party spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar on Friday said there was “nothing new or wrong” in the letter sent by Prime Minister House to the Foreign Office in 2010 circulated in media on Friday.
The letter, brought to the fore in media Thursday night, suggested that the prime minister’s office had empowered the then ambassador of Pakistan in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, to directly issue diplomatic visas to Americans without requiring clearance from relevant authorities.
Babar, in a statement issued to media on Friday, said the timing of the letter ‘leaking’ to media was suspect.
“Its [the official letter’s] regurgitation at this time is politically motivated and aimed at diverting attention from the real issue,” he said.
Embassies in important capitals of the world have representatives of relevant government departments, including security agencies, he insisted.
“The ambassador was empowered by the prime minister to issue visas, but that does not mean that due process within the embassy, involving representatives of other departments, was allowed to be circumvented,” he claimed.
The PPP leader said the ambassador had been empowered to issue visas only to those whose purpose of visit was clearly defined and duly recommended by the US State Department.
“The purpose was to expedite, not bypass, the process,” he added.
“It [the letter] was also not an authorisation to issue visas to US Special Operation Forces,” he claimed.
“The central question is not who, following due process, gave visas to some Americans who may have eventually been able to hunt and take Laden out,” he contended.
He suggested that a thorough inquiry into Pakistan’s visa issuance policies and procedures across the board should be initiated from 2001 onward, when the global hunt for Bin Laden started.
“Targeting some individuals or a political government for political purposes will not advance national security interests,” he said.
“National security interests will be advanced only by a credible, non-partisan probe in visa policies and procedures across the board and across time,” he added.
“Investigations must also be made into how many Americans entered Pakistan through the Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan, with or without visas, during the days of Gen Pervez Musharraf,” he said, targetting the former president and military chief.
“Such investigations cannot be made through selective leaks or public statements in the media. A starting point can be the Abbottabad Commission probing the Laden fiasco,” read his statement.
“Hunting Bin Laden has always been the official narrative. Making the Abbottabad Commission report public will be in conformity with the narrative. Any other course will not be credible and will be seen as political witch hunting,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Multan, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Friday that visas issued to Americans during his tenure is a non-issue and was brought to the limelight to divert attention from other issues which matter.
Gilani said, “This letter that has been leaked has a set of conditions that can be found in the first part, they include the point that people should be given visas only if they have the State Department’s recommendation and the reason for their visit is very clear.”
“The point of creating this controversy is to keep the nation from focusing on the real matter at hand,” said Gilani while discussing the controversy which arose after Haqqani’s op-ed in a US publication.
He added that the presence of Osama bin Laden be discussed rather than raising the issues of visas. “It is clear that the force that came into Pakistan for the operation that killed Osama did not have any visa at all.” Gilani also demanded that an investigation into visas issued to Americans should be conducted from 2002 to 2017.
Brushing the controversy off as a ‘non-issue’ Gilani said, “If the findings of the judicial commission that we created had been made public these questions that are being raised today would have been answered a long time ago.”
He professed that giving authority to an ambassador doesn’t mean that he should by-pass the embassy’s own paraphernalia. Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani professed that he didn’t empower Hussain Haqqani to issue visas to US special operation personnel. Yousaf Raza Gillani let it be known that any embassy within an important capital of the world has representation from security agencies.
He stated clearly he didn’t violate any law while he was serving as a prime minister of Pakistan.
The senior PPP leader revealed that in case if he has written a letter, it would have been according to proper rules as it is clearly stated inside that the ambassador may issue visas without referring every case back to Pakistan without bypassing the embassy’s own paraphernalia. He said the letter was routed through relevant/concerned ministries for their input.