Visa delay to affect aid efforts, US cautions Pak

The State Department said that if this continued, Washington’s efforts to help stabilise Pakistan could be affected.

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Thursday that if Pakistan continued to deny visas to hundreds of US officials and contractors, Washington’s efforts to help stabilise the violence-ridden country could be affected.

At a briefing, the department’s Deputy Spokesman Robert A. Wood confirmed earlier reports that Pakistan had denied visa to hundreds of US officials and citizens.

“Well, it is true. Hundreds of visa applications and renewals for US officials and contractors are awaiting issuance by the Pakistani government. The cause of the delays is unclear. But we are working with our Pakistani counterparts to try to resolve these issues. And we’re working very hard,” he said.

“In terms of what kind of an impact it may have, I would suspect, if this continues, it will indeed have an impact on our ability to do the work that we want to do to help the Pakistani people, in terms of fighting terrorism; in terms of economic development, and a whole range of issues.”

In an unusually harsh expression of public indignation from an official platform, the official said while the US administration was trying to work these issues with the government of Pakistan, “but indeed there are cases that are — that we’re concerned about”.

Asked if it’s a deliberate campaign to harass US officials and US operations in Pakistan, Mr Wood said: “I don’t think I can call it a deliberate campaign” but “certainly, if any of our officials feel that they are being harassed, there are appropriate channels to go through in order to file complaints about that sort of thing”.

Yet, he said, he would not “make a general comment that there’s an official harassment campaign”.

Explaining how the US administration was trying to resolve this dispute with a country it regards as a key ally in the war against terror, Mr Wood said: “We have raised these issues with Pakistani officials at very senior levels. And we’ve expressed our concern about the delays and the impact that this could very well have on our programmes and activities.”

The Pakistani authorities, he said, were well aware of America’s concerns. “I can’t give you any reason why they’re being delayed. But these issues are important.”

He said that while only Pakistanis could explain why they were doing so, for the Americans it was a big concern and they had raised it at very senior levels.

“We’re committed to trying to work with Pakistan to make sure that we can get these visas and get on with the business of what we’re trying to do in Pakistan.”

“In terms of raising it at senior levels, how far does this go back? Did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raise it on her recent trip?” he was asked.

“Let me just say this: We’ve raised it at very senior levels. I don’t really want to get more specific than that,” said Mr Wood.

Asked if the delay was already having an impact on US-Pakistan relations, Mr Wood said: “It’s hard for me to characterise how — would I want to stand up here at the podium and say it’s having a real impact right now. I don’t — I can’t really say that. I just don’t know. But I think, should this continue, it indeed will have an impact.”

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