“Standard Operating Procedure: Deny, then deny the denial”

Foreign Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria

Nawaz Sharif claimed another victory yesterday, as Kuwait has decided to lift six-years old visa ban for Pakistanis after the PM discussed the matter with his counterpart Sheikh Jaber al Mubarak al Hamad al Sabah. However, this victory has been somewhat overshadowed by scandal because by announcing the good news, the government has also exposed itself as making false attacks against those who tell inconvenient truths.

The issue of Kuwait’s visa ban surfaced during debate about American President Donald Trump’s order to ban visas for several Muslim countries known as a ‘Muslim Ban’. During this discussion it was noted by former Ambassador Husain Haqqani that actually Kuwait also had also banned visas for Pakistani citizens since six years ago. Haqqani was immediately attacked by the Foreign Office in an official statement.

Meanwhile, as “fake news” against Pakistan was doing the rounds, the spokesman came down heavily on Pakistan’s former US ambassador Hussain Haqqani who was caught while retweeting five years old news, claiming that Kuwait had put a ban on Pakistani visas.

“It is highly regrettable and deplorable that a person who was honoured to represent Pakistan has been indulging in activities that would hurt Pakistan’s national interests. Unfortunately, he is doing all this at a time when the world is increasingly acknowledging Pakistan’s growing economic potential in the wake of tremendous improvement in the security situation, investor friendly policies and strengthening of democratic institutions”, responded the spokesman.

He added that the more Mr. Haqqani does such malicious and unethical acts, more he exposes his character. “He has not only lost respect among Pakistanis but also among those who attach importance to values”, said the spokesman.

By announcing the reversal of the ban, though, the government has shown that the ‘Fake News’ was coming from none other than spokesman for the Foreign Office Nafees Zakaria!

Haqqani responded to the situation with his famous wit before quickly moving on to more pressing matters:

Whatever one thinks about Husain Haqqani, he has hit the nail on the head this time. “Standard Operating Procedure: Deny, then deny the denial”. We have seen this over and over again, especially with attacks against anyone and everyone who dares to point out inconvenient facts that don’t fit a particular ‘narrative’ of how we wish reality was.

Will the FO apologise for attacking Haqqani’s character when he obviously did nothing but tell the truth? Or was the FO really unaware of Kuwait’s visa ban? If this is the case, then they not only owe Haqqani an apology, but a sincere ‘thank you’ for alerting them to the situation. Either way, the conclusion is clear: Officials need to do more listening, and less attacking, if they want to solve national problems. That is undeniable.

The Story Behind the Fake Visa Waiver Story

Fake visa waiver storyIt is not the first time that a fake story has made its way from a satire website into the mainstream media, but a hoax report that the US has added Pakistan to the visa waiver program has generated more buzz more quickly than I can remember. The US Embassy has even been forced to issued an official statement on Twitter calling the report a ‘spoof’ story.

There are stories behind stories like this, and this one has many chapters to it. The first chapter is, of course, about how unprofessional – and untrustworthy – our media is. As I said before, this is not the first time a fake story has made its way into the mass media. It probably won’t be the last time, either. We should be asking what other stories we are being spoon fed are inauthentic? If our so-called ‘professional’ media can’t even bother to check with the Embassy before running a story about a major change in visa policy, how can they be trusted to report on more sensitive issues such as Kashmir or Balochistan?

There is more to this story, though, than just a failure to check sources. The story is reported that Pakistan was added to the US visa waiver program to show appreciation for Zarb-e-Azb. By doing this, the wide spread reporting gives away more than might have been intended. It is not merely a story about poor journalistic practices, it is a story about our own insecurities.

After suffering for so long, we are desperate for Zarb-e-Azb to be a success. But every time we start to feel positive, another attack reminds us that things are not so rosy as official reports tell us. This is why we are desperate for American officials to tell us things are improving. ISPR has been saying it since day one, and even though we listen, we stopped truly believing them long ago. Army’s interest is in maintaining morale, not reporting the truth.

But we are also desperate to be accepted by America. Even your most anti-American friend who always complains about US imperialism and Islamophobia secretly wants to go there. Being added to the visa waiver program says that American looks at us not as possible refugees (or worse – terrorists), but as equals.

The story is obviously a hoax, though. The US recently announced that it would not pay the Army $300 million in Coalition Support Funds because it we are not taking action against Haqqani Network militants. Jamaat ud Dawah Ameer Hafiz Saeed who US has declared a terrorist appears as a special guest on TV shows. Do we really believe that they are going to reward us with a visa waiver?

Today, the story is a hoax. If we want it to be true, we have to change the conditions so that it can become true. If we want Zarb-e-Azb to be a success, we have to stop turning a blind eye to ‘pro-Pakistan’ militants and end our tolerance for militancy completely. If we want to be treated as equals, we have to stop treating militant leaders as our special guests.

Divide and Conquer: Why harsh visa policies are a bad idea

Passport inspection

US officials gave no reason for denying entry to a British Muslim family who wanted to visit Disneyland. It was the nightmare situation that everyone secretly fears as they prepare to travel: The family was stopped from boarding the plane at the airport, even though their trip had been previously approved. They were left holding their bags and forced to turn home. It was embarrassment for the parents, but heartbreak for the children denied the chance to fulfill their dream vacation.

The US is not the only country that is restricting travel, though. The UK has reportedly been denying visas to Pakistanis by the thousands, and in a truly heartbreaking story, the family of a Pakistani man was denied visa to Australia to visit their dying son. In this case, at least a reason was given. Officials said they were not convinced the family would return to Pakistan.

This may offer some hint as to why Pakistanis are being refused visas to Western countries. Think about the timing compared to recent statements by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declaring Pakistan will not allow migrants to return. There is also the recent case of Tashfeen Malik who entered US on a K1 visa also known as “fiance visa” and concerns that Western authorities were not giving visa applications a hard enough review. The discovery of a large group of women supporters of Daesh in Karachi will only add to the suspicion.

The same cannot be said for Westerners who want to visit Pakistan. Last year Interior Ministry adopted a new policy that all Westerners must submit to clearance by intelligence agencies. Short of denying all visa requests, this is surely the strictest way to limit visitors. We should ask ourselves if we would be happy to submit to investigations by CIA or MI5 agents before being allowed to New York or London.

All of this is backwards. We complain that Westerners think of Pakistan and Muslims as extremist and violent and that they do not know how we really are, but we make it almost impossible for any Westerners to come here. If we want easier entry to Western countries, we should give Westerners easier entry to Muslim countries. Instead of submitting Western tourists to intelligence agencies, we should be promoting tourism that would showcase the real Pakistan, not the terrible ‘Homeland’ version that most Westerners only know. Then regular Americans and Britons and Pakistanis and everyone else would know that they had nothing to fear from each other, and the extremists would not be able to easily divide good people.