GUJRAT, Aug 4: The Interpol has sought from the Pakistan’s interior ministry data and information about the lost and stolen passports besides other travel documents in order to crack down on terrorists, well-placed sources told Dawn on Thursday.

Sources in the interior ministry disclosed that the decision to assign the job to the international police was taken at a meeting a few months ago by the UN Al-Qaeda/Taliban sanctions’ monitoring team. They quoted team coordinator Richard Barret as saying at the meeting that theft of passports and other travel documents was not unique to any particular region or country, but was prevalent all over the world.

They further quoted him as saying that governments should work more closely with Interpol to identify the lost and stolen passports to thwart terrorism. They said a panel of experts at the global level was set up last year to assess the effectiveness of a UN programme to crack down on the Al-Qaeda network and Taliban.

Nearly 430,000 blank travel documents, including a number of passports, have been stolen or lost from different countries and law-enforcement agencies have long identified a clear link between terrorist activities and the use of stolen or forged travel documents, claimed the sources.

They said the UN monitoring team had directed all its member countries to join Interpol and register the database of stolen and lost travel documents with the international police agency and quickly invalidate them.

The sources revealed that a racket having links with some known human traffickers had been involved in stealing green blank copies from different passport offices for the last 15 years. The racket, they said, had stolen more than 41,000 blank copies from different passport offices in the country. Around 21,000 blank copies were stolen only during the last five years.

Gangsters took away 185 blank booklets from the Muzaffarabad passport office and 1,960 copies from the Dera Ismail Khan office in 1999. In the succeeding year, the racket stole 1,112 blank copies from Sialkot office, 2,200 from Quetta office and 2,160 copies from Abbottabad office.

In 2001, it took away 2,120 blank booklets from Multan office and 1,000 blank copies from Gujranwala office while another 2,200 booklets were found missing from the custody of the railway authorities in Peshawar.

Later in 2002, the racket whisked away with 1,400 blank copies from the Sukkur regional passport office and snatched 3,000 passport booklets from postal authorities during a transit to Swat. Some 3,975 passport booklets were found missing from Faisalabad office in 2003.

After every theft or robbery incident, the authorities had lodged cases with relevant police stations and departmental inquiries were conducted, but all efforts to trace the culprits proved futile. The sources said in most of the theft incidents, the green booklets were found missing from the safe custody lock-ups which were not broken.

The modus operandi of the crime indicated that the passport office employees were involved, they said, and pointed out that a stolen booklet could be misused in many ways.

According to the interior ministry sources, the immigration authorities had fed the entire record of the stolen passport booklets in computers installed at almost all international airports in the country. But none of the foreign embassies in Pakistan had any record of the stolen booklets and the perpetrators could get visa of any Gulf country from the relevant embassy and cross over the border to enter Afghanistan or Iran from where they succeeded in flying over to their destination.

It is pertinent to mention that the misuse of such stolen passport booklets remained in the dark for quite some time. The mystery, however, was resolved last year with the arrest of three passengers by the immigration authorities at Lahore airport on the charges of travelling on forged passports. Kazim Husain, Pervez Khan and Anjum Ali, who belonged to Rawalpindi, arrived at Lahore airport on Aug 11, 2004 by a flight (PK-758) from London.

During document verification process, the computer detected that their passports were stolen from different offices, including those in Peshawar and Swat. The sources quoted the arrested passengers as informing the officials concerned that they had purchased the green books after paying a handsome amount to an agent in the UK. They added that purchase of the stolen Pakistani passport booklets from abroad was not all that difficult.

The Interpol, said the sources, had contacted the ministry seeking information about the stolen or missing passports. It had also asked for a list of human traffickers, who had links with the racket of the passport mafia.

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