ISLAMABAD - As controversy involving the issuance of visas to foreigners by the previous PPP government made headlines recently, the Ministry of Interior on Monday directed the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to establish an online centralised databank for issuance of visas to foreigners.

After implementation of the decision, the visa issuance system at the Ministry of Interior and at all Pakistani missions abroad would connect and go online — a move that will make the country’s visa issuance system more transparent.

The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan here on Monday.

The interior minister said that the new mechanism would help foreigners get an online visa appointment for any category for travelling to Pakistan. “At the same time, it will bring transparency and clarity in the system,” a spokesperson for the ministry said while quoting the minister. The manual visa issuance system had many loopholes.

The interior secretary, the NADRA chairman, director general air wing of the ministry and its senior officers attended the meeting. Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani recently claimed in his article that he issued Pakistani visas to Americans with the approval of the then PPP government to facilitate the CIA to hunt and kill Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. On the directives of Nisar, the government had withdrawn in 2014 a letter issued by the then Prime Minister’s Office authorising the Pakistani ambassador in the US to issue visas to Americans under intimation to the PM Office.

The interior minister told the meeting that the central online databank for visa appointments and visa issuance would help the state to keep a check on all aliens visiting the country. “There is still a need to make the whole exercise more transparent,” he told the meeting. Nisar said that a lot had been done during the last three years to ensure that no alien should enter Pakistan without proper documents and these documents should be duly verified before they were issued.

The interior minister directed the NADRA to develop the online system for issuance of visas so that everything should come on record and there should be no space for irregularity.

A few weeks back, the interior ministry had informed the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that it had no record of visas issued to foreigners due to the absence of an online databank. The ministry had said that it had delegated its powers to issue visas to the foreign missions but did not know how many foreigners overstayed in Pakistan as all visa process was done through the manual system.

The meeting also gave final approval for imposition of a ban on NADRA for hiring buildings on rent and purchasing land on commercial rates for establishment of its offices. The NADRA was asked to review the rates given to private contractors for renovation of NADRA mega centres and all its centres across the country.

The NADRA chairman was directed to formulate new rules and regulations for ensuring transparency for hiring private contractors since public money was not meant for doling out favours to contractors.

Nisar said that NADRA should approach provincial governments for purchasing land for its offices on government rates. The meeting gave one-week deadline to NADRA for putting up a proposal with regard to rules and regulations for the contractors and fixing rates for construction as well as renovation.

The minister said that given NADRA’s financial wrongdoings in the past over the purchase of land and renting out buildings, this practice should come to an end for good.

The chair also decided to close down the National Technology Limited (NTL), a software company established by the authority during the last PPP regime. The NTL was a source of financial misappropriation and was being closed down mainly to plug financial bungling, the minister said. He said that despite the closure of NTL international commitments of NADRA would not be affected as requisite amendments would be made to address NADRA’s international obligations and contracts with foreign institutions and countries.

The meeting also discussed the future of the Ministry of Interior’s air wing post-2017. “Air cover of the Ministry of Interior is for its fight against terrorism, militancy, extremism, and drug peddlers in the most sensitive areas across Pak-Afghan border and specifically in Balochistan and it has been a source of great support for our security forces in this respect,” the minister said.

The ministry was directed to prepare a plan whereby “the air wing continues to provide its support to our security agencies post-2017.”