Many analysts have been raising the issue of injudicious visa policy for American diplomats, as more often than not the visas are being sought for the contractors like Blackwater or Xe LLC. The policy of issuing visas to Americans within 24 hours without verification is fraught with dangers and undesirable consequences.
By Mohammad Jamil
On 27th January 2011, two people were killed when American citizen Raymond Davis opened fire on motorcycle riders. He had called his colleagues for help and their car hit another innocent passerby at Mozang Chowk in Lahore. His remand has been extended till February 11 by a Lahore court. Meanwhile, US embassy has asked the government to hand over Raymond Davis to America. Commenting on the subject, Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit said that the matter was sub judice in a court of law and the legal process should be respected. However, Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar quashed the impression that the government was under pressure from the US. "It is wrong to say that at this stage the government has decided to send Davis to the US. The law will take its own course and investigations are still going on. Legal process will be observed and respected", said Farhatullah Babar. In February 2010, the United States had lodged a strong protest with the Government of Pakistan on the arrest of some US Embassy employees and impounding of their vehicles in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. The vehicles were impounded by the law enforcing agencies for using fake registration papers and number plates. The prime minister had ordered setting up of a top-level inquiry committee, headed by the interior minister and comprising three federal secretaries as well as the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The committee should have examined in detail whether the employees of the US Embassy and its missions were performing their official duties within the parameters defined in Vienna Convention, or were flouting Conventions and violating the laws of the land. The question should have been asked as to why the diplomats and embassy staffers were scouting around our cities loaded with guns and video-filming our sensitive areas like Lahore Cantonment and other places on cars bearing fake number plates? Do Americans think that we are their colony? Should we prostrate before their compatriots who set up tents in our neighbourhoods and erect barricades on roads and streets to block free passage to the local residents? Last year, the US Embassy had claimed in its letter that the embassy, its consulate generals in Lahore and Karachi and their employees have been using vehicles with false number plates under an agreement with the Government of Pakistan in wake of the serious security threats. The letter referred to the incident on January 6, 2010 when two locally-engaged employees of the Karachi Consulate General were detained in Gwadar and their vehicle, a Toyota Prado, was impounded. Quoting the Vienna Convention, it was stated: "The ministry is reminded that pursuant to article 22(3) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, embassy property and means of transport of the mission shall be immune from such registration, attachment or execution. The seizure and continued possession by Pakistani authorities of the embassy's vehicles and equipment are therefore violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations". The letter also referred to Article 38(2) according to which the state must not exercise its jurisdiction over the diplomats and embassy staff in a manner that interferes unduly with the performance of the functions of the mission. Though there are provisions in Vienna Convention regarding privileges and immunities to the diplomatic missions, yet there are other articles by which they are under obligation to respect the laws and regulations of the country, and should not interfere in the internal affairs of the country, which is evident in Article 41. It would be appropriate to quote Article 26 of the Convention which reads: "Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving state shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in a territory". But on the other hand, Article 11 bestows on the receiving State the right to keep the size of the mission 'within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal'. The fact remains that the US and the West take measures, frame laws and rules to ensure their security. By the same token, other countries have the right to make laws, rules and regulations, which must be respected. A great care is needed especially when Pakistan is in the throes of terrorism, and it is not possible to distinguish between the US embassy's staff carrying prohibited-bore weapons and the terrorists because terrorists are using stolen cars with fake numbers. In June 2010, national daily quoting well-placed sources in foreign ministry had stated that over 50 foreign nationals, including various agents of notorious Blackwater security agency, now operating as XE, were given visas from Pakistani embassy and consulate in United Arab Emirates, which were earlier denied visas by Pakistani missions in their respective countries. These US nationals' visa applications were rejected after the secret agencies refused to clear them, the report added. The visas in question had been issued in clear contravention of a ban imposed on February 23, 2010 by the government barring all the Pakistani missions from issuing visa to any diplomat or common citizen outside his country of origin without prior permission from the interior and the defence ministries. Pakistan has to be vigilant and the US being a partner in war on terror should understand Pakistan's compulsions to avert any major catastrophe. American diplomats have to realise that basic responsibility for their protection lies with Pakistan government, and if they have to outsource their security to private agencies it should be within the knowledge of Pakistan. In fact, there should not be dual responsibility because in case of any mishap, Pakistan would draw flak. But Americans have the habit of blackmailing and bullying. Last year, the then US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan late Richard Holbrooke was asked about reimbursement of money spent on war on terror amounting to $1.2, and he replied that Pakistan had not given visas for 300 staffers. It was after news of renting the houses in large numbers by the US embassy that Chinese Ambassador had expressed concern over increased strength of American embassy and its missions. Many Pakistanis are also suspicious of the XE and other security companies, which have blemished record in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, Britain is giving political asylum to criminals especially those involved in insurgency in Balochistan. Our allies should understand that any sinister move to destabilize Pakistan would have serious consequences not only for the region but the world at large. Nevertheless, Pakistan government should review its visa policy, and under no circumstances should issue visas without verification of Americans or of any other nationality for that matter. Efforts were made to change Pakistan's visa policy for Americans, and reportedly Pakistani ambassador in US had issued hundreds of visas to Americans. This practice should stop forthwith.