Fri, 18 Sep 2020

Harare [Zimbabwe], May 28 (ANI): A major diplomatic row has erupted between Islamabad and Harare over Mian Sohail Qaiser, a Zimbabwean of Pakistani extraction, who is having strong connections in powerful ministries, police and immigration in the country.

According to The Standard, the Pakistan embassy in Harare is unhappy with the protection Qaiser is allegedly getting from government offices in Harare where he repeatedly flouts the law and protocol, it has emerged.

Qaiser contested as a ruling Zanu PF municipal candidate in the 2018 general election. He lost but, according to sources, he seems to have ambitions to run for parliament as a Warren Park candidate in 2023 when Zimbabwe holds its next general elections.

He is the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Asian Association whose authenticity Islamabad, through its local embassy, has questioned.

A trail of communication and other documents leaked to The Standard by government officials, during investigations into the diplomatic tension in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, suggests that Qaiser could have captured powerful officials in several ministries, the police and immigration, even though his real source of power could not be immediately explained.

The arrest of three Pakistanis -- one male and two females -- in Beitbridge on October 30, 2019, sparked the tension between Harare and Islamabad, said the newspaper report.

The embassy of Pakistan in Harare has described it as a "delicate and complex situation" and is incensed that Harare is not doing enough to address its concerns.

"The delay in disposal of the matter is degenerating [sic]," the Pakistani embassy wrote to Zimbabwe's director general in charge of legal and consular affairs in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and accused immigration officials of "misbehaving" by calling Pakistani travellers "criminals" on December 19, 2019.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade confirmed on November 11, 2019, that the trio -- Waqas Haider Sha (31), Parveen Faiza (27) and Bibi Asima (30) -- had been arrested at the Beitbridge border post for attempting to cross into South Africa without first reporting to immigration.

They were accompanied by a three-year-old child.

The Standard wrote: "The three were tried at the Beitbridge magistrates' court, convicted and sentenced to 90 days in prison with the option of a $300 fine each pending deportation. Asima and Faiza were sent to Chikurubi Female Prison and Haider, the male convict, to Harare Remand Prison.""But the first two have since been deported while Haider remains in prison under unclear circumstances," it said.

Sources, among them erstwhile business partners, suspect that Qaiser tipped off the immigration officers that the trio intended to cross the border illegally with the alleged help of Waqas Ahmed, a Pakistani diplomat based in Harare, who is, however, still employed by the embassy.

The main beef that Islamabad has with Qaiser and the Zimbabwean authorities are over the videos of the female Pakistanis he took at Chikurubi Prison.

In the videos that found their way onto social media and were subjected to numerous talk shows and debates back in Pakistan, the women condemned their government as a facilitator of human trafficking and that infuriated the country's Prime Minister, Imran Khan, whose embassy in Harare described the videos as "heinous."Qaiser separately interviewed the detainees in the presence of immigration officials and the embassy accused him of manipulating the interviews to suit his scheme.

According to The Standard, "Khan complained to the Harare embassy, which he tasked to investigate the matter, and queried why Qaiser seemed to enjoy immunity."Zimbabwean laws, unless under special arrangements, prohibit filming within prison premises, which are considered high-security areas.

Islamabad is also complaining that Qaiser was used as an interpreter during interviews with the detained Pakistanis. The international protocol requires that the affected embassy must avail the interpreter.

The Immigration Department recorded statements from Asima and Faiza upon deportation, and that also irked Pakistan.

"[Our] mission believes that the recording of statement of the detainees at the time of their deportation is not policy matter (sic). "It has never been witnessed in such cases," reads a March 9, 2020 letter to Zimbabwe's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

It adds: "It is astonishing to note Mian Schail Qaiser's access to official and confidential documents in the highly sensitive institution like immigration and (the) foreign office (sic)."Qaiser released another video of the remaining prisoner from inside the remand prison in Harare and posted it on social media, "damaging the reputation and prestige of Pakistan and Embassy of Pakistan".

Pakistani diplomats have been trying to secure meetings with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo to clear the air, but are allegedly being blocked due to Qaiser's influence.

It emerged that the embassy has written at least seven note verbales between November 2019 and May 15, 2020, including some requesting meetings with Moyo and Chiwenga.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry did not respond to most of the correspondence despite diplomatic warnings by Islamabad that the relationship between Zimbabwe and Pakistan was on the verge of collapse because of Qaiser's activities.

Islamabad demanded that a lawsuit should be filed against the businessman for defaming Pakistan and called for his arrest, but they were ignored.

The embassy said it met Grey Mashava, a senior principal in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and James Manzou, the then permanent secretary in the ministry.

The retention of Waqas Ahmed as the protocol attache at the Pakistani embassy could have miffed the Zimbabwean government.

Manzou, after listening to the embassy's grievances, handed its officials a note verbale dated April 15 instructing the embassy to withdraw Ahmed, the protocol attache, from the country "without any warning or listening or meeting on the matter."The embassy also claimed it requested Manzou to carry out an investigation on the status of the Zimbabwe Asian Association as well as the procedure to file a lawsuit against Qaiser, "but the mission faced dejection".

Requests to meet the Foreign Affairs Minister had also been ignored, said the embassy. (ANI)

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