The Interior and Narcotics Control Standing Committee of the Senate came down hard on the Interior and Foreign Ministries for their failure to watch the country’s interests in more than one ways, at its meeting held under the chairmanship of Senator Talha Mahmud at Islamabad on Tuesday. Appearing before the committee, Additional Secretary of Interior Ashfaq Ghumman confirmed, when questioned, that around 3,000 Americans, including security firms, had been issued visas between July 16 and December 31, 2012 by then ambassador Hussain Haqqani in Washington. Greatly perturbed at the non-availability of details of visa seekers with Mr Ghumman, the committee alleged that these visa holders were responsible for the flare-up of terrorist incidents in the country and advised him to get the required information and make it available to the committee. If the charge is true, and it is not easily proven to be so, it would be a damning indictment of both the ministries that they should have let such a lapse occur under their charge. It is incomprehensible how a country, howsoever friendly, could get such a large number of visas without proper documentation under the diplomatic head, and without any scrutiny by the Interior and Foreign Ministries.

Senator Shahi Syed, member of the committee, also inquired under what circumstances a number of Indian nationals transiting through Karachi airport and getting visas had reportedly gone missing. Mr Ghumman clarified that while there was no policy to grant visas to the transiting Indians, visas could be issued to the senior citizens and businessmen.

Another significant move of the standing committee was to direct the Foreign Ministry to initiate the process of concluding a treaty with the US and some other countries for the exchange of prisoners. According to another report Washington has asked Islamabad to sign a Council of Europe convention, just as 64 countries have done so far, to ‘allow foreigners to serve out their sentences in their home countries’. The committee lamented that while a large number of Pakistanis were languishing in different countries, the Foreign Ministry officials were practically doing nothing about them. It is assumed that once the convention has been signed, it should become possible for us to have Dr Afia Siddiqui and other Pakistanis transferred to the country.

It is a moment of soul-searching for the nation to know how cavalierly we treat our own rules, from the indiscriminate grant of visas to the neglect of the agony of our imprisoned nationals abroad. There is urgent need to reset our priorities.