Get ISI clearance if you want to visit Pakistan


LAHORE: In a major policy decision, the Pakistan government has made it mandatory for Pakistani missions abroad to issue visas to foreigners intending to visit Pakistan only after their clearance from the all powerful intelligence agency the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

According to well-placed government sources, the move had come after lengthy deliberations and in view of the deteriorating security situation in the country. Sources privy to these developments said that the decision had been taken after reports of undesired activities of some foreigners especially the Americans and foreign journalists in Islamabad. Following these developments, the country’s mighty military establishment took a serious notice of the situation and asked the government to involve the ISI in the visa issuance procedure. Therefore, the visa procedure has been changed and it has now been decided that all the foreigners intending to visit Pakistan will have to explain the purpose of their visit and duration of their stay with an NOC so as to hold them accountable in case of any objectionable activity on their part.

As things stand, all those whose visas had expired and needed short duration visa would have to go back to their respective countries in line with the new guidelines. Pakistani origin nationals from various western countries including the US would, however, go through the same Code of Conduct/procedure for their visas. Already, the Pakistani authorities have rejected the visa applications of at least 135 American citizens including senior army officials, diplomats and contractors. A senior US embassy official in Islamabad said that US diplomats have also been stopped repeatedly at Pakistani checkpoints and the US cars are also searched as part of what the US officials say is a wider focus on foreigners working in Pakistan.

While the American officials say the Pakistani authorities have not provided a comprehensive response to their complaints regarding rejection of the 137 visa applications, the foreign office circles in Islamabad say these visas were refused because of incorrect information that the applicants had provided to authorities through Pakistan Embassy in Washington. After assessing their information, the foreign office sources said, the authorities in Islamabad found the applications incomplete. “In some cases, even bogus information was provided that led to the refusal of visas. During assessment of the documents, the Pakistani authorities found the applications of 137 visa seekers incomplete and rejected their cases”, a senior foreign office official in Islamabad added while requesting not to be named.

The visa hold-up comes as the latest tangible sign of the volatility of official US-Pakistani relations. The diplomatic snub comes as the US embassy expands the number of American personnel working in Pakistan to oversee $1.5 billion per year in non-military assistance to Pakistan. The US aid is part of an attempt to demonstrate a new, long-term commitment to the country. But it has provoked outrage in Pakistan where critics said the package which sets certain benchmarks for the Pakistani government – compromises Pakistani sovereignty. The Pakistani authorities have meanwhile rejected the impression that the visas refusal was a reaction to the widespread anti-American sentiments in the country saying it was purely on merit and the American were over-reacting and had the visa seekers provided accurate information, there applications would not have been rejected.

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