Friday, December 18, 2009

US says Pakistan holding up visas

Pakistan has been holding up visas for US officials and contractors and continued delays could have an "impact" on the effectiveness of aid programmes in the country, the US State Department said on Thursday.

Hundreds of visa applications and renewals for US personnel have been delayed and the United States has raised the problem with Pakistan's senior leadership, deputy spokesman Robert Wood said.

"We've expressed our concern about the delays and the impact that this could very well have on our programmes and activities," Wood said, adding, "Should this continue, it indeed will have an impact."

The New York Times reported the delays were part of a campaign by Pakistan's intelligence services and military to harass US diplomats who have been pushing for the Pakistani government to intensify the fight against the Taliban in Pakistan.

Cracking down on the Taliban is seen as critical for the US effort to defeat the militant group across the border in Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama is sending an additional 30,000 troops.

The United States gives the Pakistani military millions of dollars in annual aid for counter-terrorism operations, and earlier this year Congress approved a $7.5-billion aid package over five years to help build democratic institutions and the economy in the country.

The United States is concerned some of the aid programmes "are grinding to a halt," a diplomat told the Times.

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