Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dawn: US wants hassle-free visa for its nationals

For thoughts on what may be behind, see here.

US wants hassle-free visa for its nationals
By Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn, February 27, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Washington wants Islamabad to put in place a restriction free and uniform visa regime for its diplomats and embassy staff posted here allowing them to carry out ‘full range of activities’.

“We look forward to creation of a visa mechanism that will enable US officials do their jobs without interference,” US Ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement issued by the embassy’s Office of Public Affairs.

Delays in issuing and extension of visas of American diplomats and other embassy staff posted here remained a major irritant in relations between the two countries.

The government recently issued most of the requested visas in an effort to placate an angry Washington, which had linked it to the release of the deferred Coalition Support Fund reimbursements.

Although, the backlog is yet to be fully cleared and some of the visas are still being processed, Ambassador Patterson acknowledged progress was being made. “Prime Minister Gilani’s offer to work with the United States to establish a transparent process on visas that will enable us to undertake full range of activities … is a positive development.”

The issuance of most of the visas led to release of $349 million out of an outstanding amount of $2.6 billion.

Many of the remaining cases relate to personnel assigned with the Office of Defence Representative for Pakistan (ODRP), which has been at the centre of the dispute over CSF disbursements.

The ODRP has been also accused by the US Government Accounting Office of inconsistently applying CSF guidelines in Pakistan.

With the visa issue nearing resolution, the Americans look to be setting the bar even higher for Islamabad for the release of remaining funds by seeking visa mechanism that ensures a hindrance-free working.

Besides, the visa clampdown, the other concern for the Americans has been enhanced vigilance by the country’s security agencies, which have recently intercepted embassy vehicles for search. While Pakistani authorities insist that the search was necessitated by the deteriorating law and order situation, the US embassy took them as ‘contrived incidents’ and ‘provocative actions’.

A senior US diplomat, speaking to Dawn, said in addition to a restriction-free regime, Washington also wanted a regular and uniform visa system for all staff based in Pakistan.

“Some of them are given single entry visas for one month, others get multiple visas for a year,” he said, adding this had to be standardised.

He indicated that close to 50 visas requests were still under consideration by Pakistani authorities.

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