The unsung professional heroes | By Raziq Mehmood Bhatti

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The unsung professional heroes


PRIME Minister Imran Khan on March 14, 2019, launched the new online visa system for foreign tourists and investors to open Pakistan’s doors to the world, making it more accessible to tourists and investors from across the globe.

Since the launch, MOI deliberately moved at slow pace to make this initiative a failure in order to protect and promote the manual processing of visa applications which was marred with corrupt practices.

The officers-in-charge of visa sections acted not only authoritatively but were involved in practices which were unbecoming of an officer.

On repeated complaints of extortion, the then Minister of Interior Brig Ijaz Shah (R) put his feet down and changed the entire team of officers dealing with VISA processing and gave the new team an ambitious task to get away with manual handling of visa applications through complete transformation to E-VISA, within three to four months.

The team under the supervision of Additional Interior Secretary Dr. Fakhre Alam, a brilliant PAS officer, took this gigantic task in August 2020 and started investigating the coercive methods being used earlier and at the same time filling the leakages that were created for extortion.

The team of officers led by the then Joint Secretary (Muhammad Khalid) and NADRA project team burned the midnight oil to realize the dream of their Prime Minister to bring change in Ministries by defeating mafias at every level.

The complete overhauling was done by this vibrant team within the prescribed timeline set by Brig. Ijaz Shah and the Cabinet on 30th October 2020, approved E-Visa policy thereby putting full-stop on the manual handling.

In this policy 194 countries were given access to online portal to apply for any category of visa.

With the introduction of the online facility, foreigners seeking to obtain visas to Pakistan will be able to do so within the comforts of their home, without having to visit a Pakistani Embassy or Consulate.

This brilliant team in short span of time brought forward new Afghan Visa Policy 2020 paving the way for Afghan Investment in Pakistan through facilitative policy initiatives and concessions.

This Afghan visa policy 2020 is widely hailed by Afghan Government and also by the Pak-Afghan Parliamentary Friendship Group which was created under Speaker National Assembly to further enhance the Pak-Afghan relations.

The MOI team of competent officers drafted much advertised Tourist Visa Policy and was working on using track and trace technology to identify over-stayed foreigners and other procedural issues popping up on day to day basis. But the team was suddenly removed in second week of December 2020 citing hilarious reasons.

These officers have no replacement in MOI and how tragic it is for them to be shown doors in spite of reforming the entire visa system which at present is moving again at a snail’s pace and foreigners irrespective of nationalities are facing enormous problems especially Chinese whose extensions are kept pending for reasons best known to MOI or the agents who are again active outside MOI, promising quick approval in return of hefty amount.

No doubt Prime Minister is right in saying that he is fighting mafias at every level and he should look into one in MOI which may turn into a security nightmare for this government and also a hurdle in his “Naya Pakistan”.

—The writer is a journalist, based in Islamabad.