ISLAMABAD/Multan - Amid a pending vote over military courts in the Senate, the PPP has come out with some tough counter questions to military and political establishment - as the leak of former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s letter to ex-ambassador Husain Haqqani is pinching it hard.

The prime accused, Gilani yesterday denied any wrongdoing in issuance of visas to certain American nationals in 2010 - when he was prime minister.

Both he and his party, Pakistan People’s Party, demanded a judicial inquiry of the matter and making public the OBL commission report – saying the controversy was created to divert attention from real issues.

All this comes after the revelation of a secret letter from PM House to then Pakistan Ambassador to US Husain Haqqani lend credence to latter’s assertions that PPP government at the highest official level bypassed all security protocols for issuance of visas to certain Americans – thought to be spies and US Special Forces personnel.

The controversy began with an article penned by Haqqani wherein he claimed that PPP top leadership was involved in issuance of visas to the Americans. He also mentioned the secret document, which bears the signatures of the principal secretary to then PM Gilani and carried names of certain US nationals.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Friday declared that the disclosures made by Husain Haqqani were an act of “treason”. He also called it a conspiracy against the armed forces.

PPP Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said on Friday that the central question was not who granted visas to the Americans, but how the al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden lived in a cantonment for a decade directing terrorism globally.

He said that investigations must also be made into how many Americans entered Pakistan through Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan, with or without visas, during the days of Pervez Musharraf. Such investigations cannot be made through selective leaks or public statements in the media, he added.

He said, “There is nothing new nor wrong in the [July 14,] 2010 letter of PM’s House to the Foreign Office reported in the media. However, its regurgitation at this time is politically motivated and aimed at diverting attention from the real issue.

“A starting point can be the Abbottabad Commission probing the OBL fiasco. Appropriate lessons will only be learnt if the nation knew whether and who issued visas without due process as well as how a global terrorist was in hiding in Pakistan for so long.

“Hunting OBL has always been the official narrative. Making the Abbottabad Commission report public will be in conformity with the narrative. Any other course will not be credible and will be seen as political witch hunt.”

The spokesman said that no amount of “verbal jugglery, media circus and mudslinging on the previous PPP government will erase this question from public mind.”

Senator Babar said: “A thorough inquiry into visa-issuance policies and procedures across the board from 2001 onwards when global hunt for OBL started is what is needed. Targeting some individuals or a political government for political purposes will not advance national security interests.”

Addressing a news conference at the residence of former federal minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi in Multan, Yousuf Raza Gilani said he had empowered the embassy and not Husain Haqqani in person to issue visas to the Americans at will.

He said that permission was only to grant visas to those recommended by the State Department with the purpose of visit clearly specified.

“The Special Operation Forces that participated in the Abbotabad Operation did not come into Pakistan’s territory with any visas,” he said.

He said that his letter, which was being discussed, was sent to Haqqani via concerned ministries under set regulations and concerned ministries were consulted before writing this letter.

"I wrote this letter in the light of rules and regulations according to which the ambassador had to issue visas after security clearance." He explained that the letter was not addressed to the ambassador in person rather it asked for giving authority to the embassy.

Babar said that the embassies in important capitals of the world also had representatives of relevant government departments including security agencies.

“The ambassador was empowered by the prime minister to issue visas. But it does not mean that due process within the embassy, involving representatives of other relevant departments, was allowed to be circumvented,” he said.

Babar maintained that the ambassador was empowered to issue visas only to those whose purpose of visit was clearly defined and duly recommended by the State Department. “The purpose was to expedite, not bypass, the process,” he explained.

Babar said that it was also not an authorisation for visas to the US Special Operation Forces.

“National security interests will be advanced only by a credible non-partisan probe in the visa policies and procedures across the board and across the time,” he said.

 Gilani’s stance

The PPP leader said that a judicial commission was also formed during Musharraf regime. He said that he kept Haqqani at Prime Minister House, got his resignation and produced him before the national security committee of the parliament.

"But we don't know who deleted his (Haqqani’s) name from the exit control list. They should be questioned," he added.

Gilani said there should be a judicial investigation into issuance of visas between 2007 and 2017 and he would want Haqqani to appear before the inquiry commission to clear the ambiguity created by the former ambassador.

He said everything would become clear if the report of Abbottabad Commission was published.

The ex-PM said he just received a Whatsapp message of Haqqani in which he explained that the ambassador could not issue visas while bypassing the procedure and embassy staff.

Gilani said some elements wanted to create an issue out of a ‘non-issue’ to divert the attention of 200 million people of Pakistan as next year was election year and PPP was making gaining strength. Those creating the visa issue were frightened that the PPP would come into power again, he added.

When asked about the names of some people mentioned in his letter for issuance of visas, Gilani said that the motive behind mentioning the names was to expedite the process of visa issuance.

The journalists drew his attention towards the then foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his successor Hina Rabbani Khar's stance that they did not issue any visa.

Gilani responded by saying that Ms Khar became foreign minister after this visa saga, and Qureshi was foreign minister at that time and he should be questioned on this issue.

He said that a new drama was staged in Pakistan every now and then over a non-issue to divert attention of the masses from the real issues.

The PPP leader congratulated Hamid Saed Kazmi on his acquittal in haj corruption case and said that he was an asset of PPP. He said that Asif Zardari especially came to Multan to congratulate Kazmi on his honourable acquittal.

Responding to a question on a statement of former interior minister Rehman Malik in which he had admitted that corruption was committed in haj operation, he said that he knew only one thing that Kazmi was acquitted by the court.