Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Business Recorder editorial Aug 9, 2016
The curious case of M C Barrett Matthew Craig Barrett is a US national married to a Pakistani woman, reportedly the daughter of an Islamabad lawyer, with two sons, and had been living in Pakistan some years ago. After being deported from Pakistan in 2011, ostensibly on suspicion of snooping around and photographing sensitive military (nuclear?) installations not far from Islamabad, Mr Barrett made what turned out to be a dramatic re-entry into Pakistan the other day despite being on a blacklist, a development that sent sections of the media and politicians into a frenzy of speculation regarding his motives and intent. Without adding more fuel to that raging speculative fire, it is nevertheless useful to recap some of the known facts about Mr Barrett. He flew to Islamabad with a valid four-year multiple entry visa issued by our Consulate in Houston. He was initially cleared by FIA Immigration and allowed to proceed but then, according to sources, another layer of checking discovered his name on the blacklist. A frantic chase and eventual arrest by the FIA followed (Keystone cops anyone?). Curiouser and curiouser, it turns out that Sub-Inspector FIA Raja Asif Raza and his son Constable Ehteshamul Haq were on duty when Barrett was initially cleared for entry. Since a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been set up to investigate how Barrett obtained his visa in Houston and how Immigration cleared him initially, the FIR in this regard has named the father and son as culpable. The father has obtained interim pre-arrest bail until August 15 from a Special Judge Central (FIA). The son’s fate is that he and Barrett have been detained and a four-day physical remand of both ‘accused’ has been obtained by the FIA Immigration Cell. The father’s counsel’s plea in court was that the Immigration officers saw that Barrett had a valid visa but when they entered his name into their data base to ascertain routinely whether his name was on the blacklist, the system cleared him. The fault therefore on the human side was unintentional, and on the machine side, a systemic error. He did not go on to explain why the second check with the same system produced a contrary result to the first time. Our penchant for and obsession with conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the circumstances of the Barrett case are even stranger than fiction. Barrett has told the FIA that he was here on a scouting mission because he wanted to move to Pakistan (a somewhat different ‘scouting’ mission than the one for which he was deported five years ago). Fair enough, but the unanswered questions just won’t go away. How did he manage to obtain a four-year multiple entry visa in Houston? Is it the usual case of some under the counter hanky-panky? Why did he enter a wrong address on his disembarkation card? Given his earlier track record, Barrett appeared to be playing with fire. In 2011 when he was arrested, incriminating maps of the sensitive installations he was allegedly photographing were recovered from him. His visa at that time was curtailed and he was asked to leave the country in the climate of heightened suspicion after the Raymond Davis affair and Osama bin Laden raid. Instead, he went into hiding but was arrested days after his curtailed visa expired. The spreading ripples of the affair now have enveloped FIA Assistant Director (Immigration) Nadeem Zafar too. The officer has been suspended for allegedly clearing Barrett. Zafar was reportedly also suspended in 2009 for alleged links with foreigners while he was an Inspector in the FIA. He reportedly moved to the UK on ex-Pakistan leave and rejoined the FIA on his return in 2013. This curious cast of players is headed by none other than our doughty Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Despite the speculative furore, the minister has attempted to play down the ‘spy’ angle, presumably to spare the government’s blushes. However, what is still missing from the usually loquacious minister’s statements is some clarification regarding Barrett’s expulsion five years ago. Instead the usual umbrage and blame being heaped on junior officials is on display. Surely the minister must realise in the context of the security situation of the country and the current anti-terrorism drive that this incident has badly exposed the possibility of either corruption in our immigration setup or systemic failures or both. Can a country in the middle of trying to implement an anti-terrorism National Action Plan afford such glaring mistakes, glitches and loopholes? A rhetorical question if ever there was one.