Visa leaks: A political strategy that backfired?

Nawaz Sharif

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been five years since PMLN dominated the polls and Nawaz Sharif returned for a third term as Prime Minister. Elections are not expected for one more year, however it seems that election season has arrived already. That is the best explanation I have been able to think of for the sudden return of the old visa controversy.

There are several theories about what is behind the leaks of documents related to Husain Haqqani’s time as Ambassador. Cyril Almeida believes it is to remind the civilians of who’s boss, but I have my doubts this time. The usual Army proxies are unusually silent. Not only this, but whoever is behind this whole drama hasn’t thought it through very well.

The first leaked document was a letter granting Husain Haqqani greater authority in expediting visas for some US officials without first sending requests to Islamabad for clearance. What first seemed like a smoking gun turned out to be nothing but dust when Haqqani himself noted that this was nothing new and had actually been reported long ago.

It was the next document that really gave away the incompetence of the conspirators, though. A memo from the Foreign Office marked as ‘Confidential’ directs Missions not to issue visas to a list of 36 alleged CIA agents. There are three major red flags with this leak.

  1. Obviously, we do not know if visas were actually issued to any of these people.
  2. If this list is authentic, it is unlikely that our agencies would want it published because it will cause serious problems for our own intelligence agents who are working undercover. There is a tradition of agencies respecting each other and not exposing the other sides agents except in extreme circumstances. Publishing a list of undercover agents would risk upsetting the very delicate balance of trust with foreign agencies and put our own agents at risk of being exposed.
  3. This is the biggest mistake: Whoever leaked overlooked that the list of alleged CIA agents includes a hand written request for their visas signed not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by the Defence & Army Attache who is himself now a Corps Commander!!!

Defence Attache visa request

Husain Haqqani has insisted that ‘military was not bypassed. period‘. Even if the Ambassador was granted authority to issue visas without review by Islamabad, there has never been any evidence that visas were issued without full cooperation and review of Defence agencies located withing the Embassy. Till date there has been no evidence that any visas were issued without the approval of agencies stationed at the Embassy. In fact, this latest leak suggests that Defence officials were fully informed. Just as publishing lists of foreign agents is not in our own agencies interest, also we should ask if publishing documents that show the Defence officials who reviewed and approved visa requests is in our national interest.

If the boys are not behind this one, then, who is? To find the answer we should look at the narrative that is being promoted. It is not just Haqqani who is being targeted, it is PPP leadership. The former President Asif Zardari and PM Gilani are clearly in the sights of the leakers and those who are pushing the narrative that PPP government went around the military to help US agents. It was Khawaja Asif who called for a full investigation, apparently having forgotten that there already was one, and that if anyone wants to get to the bottom of things they can simply release the full contents of the Abbottabad Commission Report.

Until someone comes forward and admits being behind the leaks, this will all be left to speculation. However, it is hard to see how any of this benefits the boys at this time. Much more likely is that someone in PMLN got too clever for their own good and decided to start campaigning early by knocking out PPP by re-introducing old civil-military divides. This was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Unnecessary because PPP is too busy making their own bad decisions to be a real political threat, and also because it sppears that someone within PMLN leadership is trying to drag the Army into politics. 2018 is looking good for Nawaz Sharif. As this drama shows, he needs to make sure it is his own people who don’t bungle it!

Author: Mahmood Adeel

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Author: Mahmood Adeel