LONDON British High Commission officials in Pakistan have been accused by the principal of a prestigious Peshawar college of dereliction of duty for failing to investigate bogus students entering the UK with false documents.
The explosive allegation came amid increasing diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and Britain over who is to blame for the high numbers of Pakistani nationals entering Britain on illegally obtained visas.
A report in The Observer (UK ignored warnings against bogus students) quoting Dr David Gosling, the UK-born head of Edwards College of Peshawar, said officials had ignored specific evidence that students were entering Britain on false papers. He believes they may be turning a blind eye to avoid uncovering corruption.
Dr Gosling, principal of the 2,000-strong college for three years, said that in December he sent details of students who had obtained bogus student visas, including their names, to the British High Commission in Islamabad but was still waiting for a response.
He told the Observer on Saturday 'The high commission is either turning a blind eye or just cannot cope with violations of visa protocol by local students. They do not appear to have taken my complaints seriously and have not responded to my specific requests to investigate these students since last December.
'When officials in Islamabad realise that something has gone wrong they try to cover up for the sake of the people involved. But the system appears to be a mess.'
Dr Gosling was told about two students by the British Council last autumn. Two men, then aged 20, had obtained visas by claiming that they would be working on a council scheme that no longer existed.
One of the two students was interviewed by Dr Gosling and admitted that he and his friend had gone to Britain under false pretences. According to letters seen by the Observer, they obtained visas with the help of a corrupt Pakistani lecturer, officials from a British charity and an academic in Britain. Dr Gosling asked the high commission to investigate their cases.
Dr Gosling, 64, a physicist and former fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, said that he knew many of the people working at the high commission and believed that it was no longer functioning properly.
'There do seem to be major problems in Islamabad. Many of the staff is now working in Abu Dhabi because of the regularity of bomb threats. We have bomb threats at our college as well, but we ignore them,' he said.
'I am concerned about these few fraudulent cases because I want to see the good students going to Britain and the bad ones held back.'
A letter sent last week by Dr Gosling to the high commission, and seen by the Observer, identifies another student from Peshawar who he says has come to Britain on a fraudulent visa. The bogus student is still believed to be living in the UK, he added.
He said that he had decided to speak out because he agreed with the comments of Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the Pakistan high commissioner, who was roundly condemned by ministers last week for pointing the finger at the British High Commission.
In an interview with the Observer, Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said on Saturday that Pakistan and other countries from which potential terrorists regularly tried to enter Britain would be placed on an international blacklist under Tory plans to prevent abuse of the student visa system.
He accepted that singling out certain nations -- likely also to include Afghanistan and Algeria -- for special treatment would be controversial.
But Dr Brian Iddon, vice-chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Pakistan, warned against taking knee-jerk action in the heat of the moment.
'I don't want knee-jerk reactions. America tightened its controls and the academic institutions regretted it. I don't think we should tighten it up to the point where they start going to other countries like Germany. There are future benefits in terms of trade and the economy. We have to be very careful we are not over the top.'