ISLAMABAD: The US visa policy towards Pakistan remains unchanged despite President Donald Trump’s decision to ban visitors from seven Muslim countries, a US embassy spokesman said. Last week, Trump banned visas for the citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – all Muslim majority countries. There were reports that process for the Pakistanis would also be changed to make it tough to get a visa. There was no official word on it. However, Trump had hinted he could consider banning other countries if necessary. A US embassy spokesman dismissed the fears in this regard saying the reports about change in policy were only ‘rumours’. The spokesman said Pakistan was not among the countries that could be added to the lost of the banned countries. “There have been no special instructions by the US administration (on visa change),” said the spokesman in a television interview. Other officials at the embassy confirmed his statement. This week, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had disappointed many Pakistani visa applicants when he said: “You can point to other countries that have similar problems like Pakistan and others – perhaps we need to take it further.” Trump’s executive order to ban visas for seven Muslim countries sparked protests by the rights groups. The order was blocked by District Judge Ann Donnelly who allowed stranded travellers to stay in the US. Trump insists the decision was taken to stop ‘terrorists’ from entering his country.
Hours earlier, Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said the new visa policy for the several Muslim countries was US’ internal affair. The top diplomat said that the US had the right to adopt any visa policy as a sovereign country. “We are analysing the situation after the visa ban on seven Muslim countries but we believe visa policy is their own right. They can introduce any changes like other sovereign countries,” he said. Aziz added: “We are committed to good ties with the US. We also wish to promote relations with other countries. Open policy is the need of the hour,” he said. Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria also described Trump’s new visa policy, as Washington’s sovereign right but added “such decisions are not without humanitarian and political dimensions that need to be looked at and considered in going forward.” Zakaria said such policies should not be vulnerable to be exploited by elements who wanted to seek cracks in the global alliance against terrorism along religious lines. The spokesman said Pakistan had good ties with the US and was looking forward to strengthening the relations further. Recently, Pakistan’s relations with the US have not been tested by the two country’s differences over the war on terror. Pakistan says it has been fighting the militants without any discrimination but Washington has been led to believe by the Indian lobby that Islamabad was protecting some militant groups. Pakistan is one of the key allies of the US in the war on terror and has lost more lives than any other country during the anti-terror campaign. Pakistan’s army is still engaged in a battle with the militants in the tribal belt.