Opposition parties concerned over govt’s ‘liberal visa policy’ for Afghanistan

Published August 29, 2021
People arriving from Afghanistan gather at the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman on Aug 27. — Reuters/File
People arriving from Afghanistan gather at the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman on Aug 27. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid government’s boasting of its efforts in the ongoing evacuation from Kabul, the opposition parties on Saturday expressed concerns over the ‘liberal’ visa policy adopted by the government, fearing infiltration of terrorists in the guise of transit passengers from Afghanistan.

Criticising the government for not taking the parliament and the opposition into confidence on the situation that emerged after the Aug 15 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, the country’s major opposition parties raised questions over the government’s handling of the situation, stating that no one knows as to who is making decisions in this regard.

The opposition parties expressed concerns following reports that Pakistan was facilitating those Afghans and other foreigners who wanted to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of most parts of the country and disclosure by federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry during a news conference in Karachi that Pakistan had so far evacuated more than 4,400 people from Afghanistan and as many as 27,000 people had entered Pakistan from Chaman and Torkham borders.

A massive exodus from the war-torn neighbouring country is expected following the Aug 26 blast outside the airport in Kabul resulting in the deaths of over 150 people. Islamabad’s administration had already reportedly taken control of all hotels in the capital for three weeks to arrange accommodation for foreigners being evacuated from Afghanistan. Security measures in and around the hotels have also been beefed up, with police and paramilitary personnel put on high alert.

Want strict monitoring of foreigners during transit stay

When most of the parties came out with a general reaction, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart Senator Raza Rabbani put specific questions before the government regarding its handling of the situation, particularly its visa policy for those entering the country from Afghanistan.

“It is a matter of concern that the government till date has not taken the people or the parliament into confidence on the rapidly developing Afghan situation,” said Mr Rabbani, adding that the matter of further concern for them is that the parliament has not been informed about the steps which the government has already taken or is taking in the wake of the emerging situation in Afghanistan, including granting of visas to those who wanted to leave the country.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Rabbani listed a number of questions which, according to him, the government needed to respond.

“What necessitated Pakistan being made a staging station for the exodus from Afghanistan?” he asked.

The PPP senator also asked the government to disclose the nationalities of the people being granted visas to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan and also about the duration and the type of visa being issued to them?

Mr Rabbani, who had also served as the Senate chairman, also asked the government to explain as to what safeguard measures it had taken to ensure that these people would leave Pakistan and would not mix with the local population.

More importantly, Mr Rabbani said the nation wanted to know as to what steps the government had taken to ensure that terrorists belonging to militant Islamic State (IS) group or Daesh did not infiltrate the country owing to this “liberal policy” of granting visas.

The PPP senator said these were basic questions and it was the right of every Pakistani to be informed about them as it would affect their lives and have a long-term bearing on the national security of the country.

In response to a question regarding the upcoming briefing of the members of three parliamentary committees by the military leadership on the Afghan situation at the army’s GHQ on Monday (tomorrow), the PPP senator termed it “insufficient”.

“The briefing to a selective group of parliamentarians will not serve the purpose,” declared Mr Rabbani, adding that it would create feelings among other parliamentarians that perhaps they were the children of a lesser god.

Objecting to the venue of the briefing, he said those who wanted to brief the parliamentary committees should appear before it as the committees very rarely visited places. Moreover, he recalled, in the past the military leadership had briefed the parliament many a times.

National interest

When contacted, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Ahsan Iqbal said the government should keep the “national interest and humanity” in mind while granting visas to the people coming from Afghanistan.

Mr Iqbal, who had served as the interior minister in the PML-N government, said that the government should ensure tracking of those people who had entered Pakistan in transit visas and make sure that they left the country within the specific period. The PML-N leader said there should not be a “refugee exodus” as it would create further crisis for the country. He said it was the duty of the government to seek international support for the refugees as Pakistan would not be able to handle the situation on its own.

Another opposition party, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), also asked the government to provide the particulars of those who had been granted visas to stay for a month in the country.

“On which forum, the government has made the decision to allow 5,000 foreigners to Pakistan?” asked Asif Luqman Qazi, the head of the party’s foreign affairs wing in a statement.

“What is the surety that these foreigners will not become a threat for the country’s security like Raymond Davis? Has the US sought these kinds of arrangements with its strategic partner India?” asked Mr Qazi.

The leaders of the two nationalist parties —Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Awami National Party (ANP) — were of the view that all those who wanted to come to Pakistan should be allowed to do so on humanitarian grounds.

Speaking at a news conference in Quetta, PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai said no country in the world stopped the people migrating due to Afghanistan-like situation. He said the people from Afghanistan were coming to Pakistan due to uncertain situation in their country.

Talking to Dawn, ANP’s information secretary Zahid Khan also said the government should allow those Afghans who wanted to leave their country, particularly after the recent blasts at the Kabul airport. He said they could not oppose the entry of the people from Afghanistan on humanitarian basis, adding that it was the duty of security agencies to monitor and screen those entering the country to prevent unwanted elements’ entry to the country.

Commenting on the other opposition parties’ demand for a parliament session, Mr Khan regretted that the parliament had never been a decision-making forum on key national issues, especially the foreign policy.

“Those who have been making policies for 40 years have never sought any help from the parliament. Now how can you ask them?” he said, adding that “all the decisions about Afghanistan are always made by the establishment”.

The ANP leader said that on the one hand, the government had announced that it would not provide space to the US and on the other hand, it was allowing them to use the country’s soil for evacuation.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2021



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