ISLAMABAD   -   Pakistan has taken up the matter of Iraq Ziarat visa suspension for Pakistani pilgrims with the Iraqi government.

Talking to this scribe, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan has demanded immediate restoration of visas for Pakistani citizens.

She said that Iraq’s Ambassador to Pakistan Hamid Abbas Lafta was called to the foreign office thrice this week to convey government of Pakistan’s concern over the delay of visas to over 50,000 Pakistan pilgrims who were planning to visit holy places in Iraq on the eve of Arabean (the 40th day of martyrdom of Imam Hussain R.A.)

Khar said she also spoke to Pakistan ambassador in Baghdad, Amjad Ali about the situation and directed him to reach out to the Iraqi government and resolve the matter on priority basis. “Our priority was to push over 5,000 Pakistanis who were stuck up at the Iraq-Iran border for which we are successful and these Pakistanis have entered into Iraq,” she added.

She said all out efforts were being made to convince the Iraqi government to open the border for Pakistani pilgrims who are travelling from Pakistan to Iraq and then to Iraq by road. “There are too many hindrances on this issue, however, steps are underway,” she added.

Meanwhile, federal minister for overseas Pakistanis held an emergency meeting with Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on the issue and requested him to take up the matter with the Iraqi government. An official statement issued from Sajid Hussain Toori said the secretary Ministry of Interior and the secretary Ministry of Overseas Pakistani division would take up the matter with the Iraqi government on urgent basis. “I have also taken up the issue of those overseas Pakistanis who are behind the bars in foreign countries and the interior minister assured that this issue would be resolved,” he added.

Toori said after Arabean, Ministry of Religious affairs, overseas Pakistan would prepare a comprehensive Ziarat policy for Pakistani citizens to avoid any future hassle.

Over 75,000 Pakistanis are awaiting their Iraqi visa and have submitted their documents through various travel agents across Pakistan. According to sources, 20,000 Pakistanis have purchased their airline tickets and awaiting Iraqi visa. They have also made advance hotel bookings in various Iraqi cities which is further burdening them.