FM Qureshi says US refused visas to three government officials

ISLAMABAD: The United States has imposed visa sanction on three senior Pakistani interior ministry officials because of a row over repatriation of deportees.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that visa curbs had been applied by the US on three officials of Pakistan’s interior ministry.

The officials who are facing visa restrictions are an additional secretary and a joint secretary of the interior ministry as well as the director general passports.

The sanctions on the three officials have been put in place after a row between the two countries over deportation of dozens of Pakistanis, currently in the US, because of visa overstay and other allegations. Mr Qureshi said the US authorities intended to deport more than 70 Pakistanis, but the government had asked them to fulfil the legal requirements.

The US put the restrictions on three officials that are said to be overseeing country’s policy on accepting back nationals deported from other countries.

The US has over the past 18 months deported over 100 Pakistanis, all of whom were accepted back. It is the first time that Pakistani authorities have insisted on a verification of the credentials of the deportees.

The foreign minister, however, clarified that there were no visa restrictions by the US government on Pakistani citizens in general. Consular operations of the US embassy in Islamabad are continuing and are granting visas to the eligible applicants.

About the escalating US-Iran tensions, FM Qureshi said, Pakistan was closely following the situation and would take a position on the issue that best served the national interest.

He said Iran’s troubled relations with the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were affecting the region’s peace. If the situation aggravated, he feared, it would affect the entire region.

The US, it should be recalled, had deployed aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and F-15 fighters, and Patriot Missile batteries to counter an unspecified threat from Iran.

Latest reports suggest that the US is planning to deploy 120,000 troops as well.

US Air Force aircraft deployed around Iran have in the meantime begun flying deterrence missions.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan has said that the US, through its deployment, intended to convey to Iran that “an attack on Americans or our interests would be met with an appropriate response”.

Ever since the US deployments sabotage acts in the region have increased. In the first such incident, Saudi vessels were attacked and in the latest occurrence Aramco oil fields have been hit by drones.

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has, however, downplayed the US deployments describing them as part of “psychological war in the region”. He contended that the “comings and goings of their (US) military is a normal matter”.

The foreign minister said he would visit Kuwait over the weekend (May 18-19) with a message from Prime Minister Imran Khan.

He said notwithstanding the rifts with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Pakistan wished to have good relations with all Arab countries and strengthen trade ties with them through a Free Trade Agreement with GCC.

Regarding Pakistani prisoners in Saudi Arabia, he said, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, during his visit to Pakistan had on Pakistan government’s request promised to release 2107 Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails because of minor crimes and inability to pay fines. The verification of inmates to be freed was continuing and they would be released on the completion of the process, he added.

Mr Qureshi made it clear that the government had not sought any concession for those facing drug trafficking charges.