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Government to introduce online visa application system

Article Source: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1367883/facebook-address-pakistans-concerns-blasphemous-content/

By Qadeer Tanoli

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday said the government has decided to introduce an online application system for issuance of visas to all foreigners through Pakistani missions abroad.

“The government has taken multiple steps to make the system of issuance of visas transparent,” the minister said while addressing a news conference at the Punjab House.

Nisar said he had taken the prime minister’s permission to introduce the online system, adding he had also increased the visa fee which was now at par with the one being charged from the Pakistanis and made it a bilateral thing.

“The online system should have a central databank and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has already been directed to develop it in the Ministry of Interior.”

“The practice that ‘the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing’ should be eliminated completely,” Nisar said and added, “Anyone’s name, who is applying for the Pakistani visa, will be in the record for [cross] checking of government functionaries and security agencies.”

Moreover, he also announced making the Immigration Service Department a separate entity by splitting it from the FIA.

“The FIA should not have any connection with the Immigration Department and it must be a separate service,” the minister said, adding “It should be a modern, developed and focused service.”

Nisar said he had already obtained the permission of the premier on both those new initiatives in principle.

The minister said: “Each and every visa application is [being] sifted now, gets security clearance, and official diplomats, who get visa for one year, are [being] granted visa extension after getting security clearance now.”

The minister said though he had been facing a lot of pressure, he did not compromise on it. “No record of foreigners, who were allowed to enter in the country without proper documents, is available [with the ministry]. Even the record of visas, which were issued by Pakistani missions, was not submitted to the Ministry of Interior.”

He said no one had taken into consideration Pakistan’s security concerns before issuing visas and added that this sort of “deals” were done in an individual capacity.

Nisar said he in his capacity as an MNA and the opposition leader had expressed reservations over issuing visas to foreigners without getting clearance from the security agencies.

“Many people were arrested from Gwadar, Islamabad and other parts of the country during previous regimes who had no visa or lacked proper documents, but they were released later on.

“It also came to my notice that many foreigners were allowed to enter in Pakistan without having visas [entry seals stamped on their passports] from specific airports.”

Referring to a letter issued by the then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani’s office in July 2010 empowering the then-US ambassador Husain Haqqani to directly issue visas to Americans, the minister said it came to his knowledge on July 14, 2014.

“A notification of the former prime minster of the previous regime came to my notice on July 14, 2014, under which an ambassador (Haqqani) was allowed to issue visas without [obtaining] clearance of security agencies of the country.”

“I cancelled this notification in 2014,” he said.

“In my individual capacity, I compromised [rules] in a single case to allow entry to a helpless woman, who was imprisoned in an Indian prison and she had no evidence that she was a Pakistani.”

“Otherwise, renowned cricketer Dean Jones had to go back on account of [possessing] incomplete travel documents and the same was the case with Sharmila Tagore,” he said.

Commenting on blasphemous content on Facebook, Nisar said he had received a letter from the vice-president of the social media site in which it was stated that attention was being paid to the reservations of Pakistan over the issue.

The minister said Facebook had blocked 62 pages and 45 sites during the last two to three days that contained blasphemous content.

Nisar said PM’s Adviser Sartaj Aziz had written a letter to the OIC while Tariq Fatemi wrote to the Arab League in this context and added that the UN was also being approached to express reservations of Muslims with regard to blasphemous content on social media.

While responding to a query about the termination of the ‘controversial’ lease of a piece of land for the under-construction Grand Hyatt and high-rise apartments on the Constitution Avenue, Nisar said the government was committed to return every single penny to affected investors.

“A committee will be constituted after getting an approval of the cabinet and the prime minister in a few days. It will contact each person, who invested money in the project, with a view to help him/her in getting back their money.”

Responding to another question, Nisar said he would welcome former president Asif Ali Zardari to hold a public meeting in his hometown of Chakri Vakilan in the Rawalpindi district. “I assure you that I would cancel the surety bond of his (Zardari’s) candidate in the next elections from the area.”

The minister advised former information minister of Sindh Sharjeel Memon to reply in court about Rs5 billion corruption charges against him.

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