Syeed DANISH HUSSAIN and IMRAN MUKHTAR
It has been learnt that most of the foreign journalists, human rights and peace activists had been issued visit visas only for Islamabad by the Interior Ministry that has caste doubts over the participation of these journalists in the rally who had to stay in DI Khan, a city bordering South Waziristan, before proceeding to the tribal belt of the region.
The entry of these journalists had been denied as part of the country’s policy to strictly prohibit the movements of foreigners in the country’s tribal belt, the sources informed. The PTI leadership is trying its best to ensure full coverage of this event through foreign journalists to get proper space in the international media. On September 5, PTI Chairman Imran Khan while addressing a news conference at PTI’s central office had announced holding of “peace march” to South Waziristan on Oct 6.
This widely appreciated announcement was perceived nationally as the first-ever practical step by some Pakistani political party - though it is widely believed that PTI enjoys strong backing of Pakistani military establishment - towards engaging the war-hit tribal people in dialogue that, according to Imran Khan, is the only viable solution to end the ongoing ‘US-waged’ war on terror. The peace march is aimed to express solidarity with the people of the tribal areas and to protest against the US drone attacks. “Through the peace march, we are talking about political settlement of this issue, as everyone including Army, tribal people and Pakistanis want return of normalcy to the region,” Imran Khan said.
“We have not issued these directives aiming to prohibit the entry of these foreign journalists specifically,” a senior official of the Interior Ministry said on condition of anonymity adding that it might be due to the ministry’s routine policy to prohibit the movement of foreigners in the volatile region of the country.
He further clarified that foreigners aspiring to visit Pakistan seek their visas from Pakistani missions abroad whom the Interior Ministry had entrusted powers to issue visas through Foreign Office. The ministry has open visit visa policy for some countries like China and the nationals of some other countries like India, US and Canada are issued visas for specific cities, he further said.
When contacted, PTI spokesperson Shafqat Mehmood said that the party leadership was in contact with the Ministry of Interior to obtain no-objection certificate for foreign participants of the peace rally to travel to tribal areas. “We need confirmation (NOC) from the Interior Ministry to make foreign nationals a part of our proposed peace rally. And we are in contact with ministry officials for the purpose,” Shafqat Mehmood informed. When asked if the ministry did not grant the permission what would be PTI’s strategy, he said, “It’s premature to comment over it.”
To another question, he said, “So far it is not clear how many foreign nationals will participate the rally, however, the number will vary between 60 and 70.”