Pakistan has restricted the hitherto unfettered movement of US and UN officials at the international airport here, citing misuse of the facility that was granted in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack.
"All US officials and diplomats will now have to go through normal airport checks at the Islamabad airport as the government has decided to withdraw the extraordinary concession offered to them after 9/11 by former president Pervez Musharraf," The News said Wednesday.
Under the concessions, US officials and their vehicles enjoyed unchecked arrivals and departures and no scrutiny of their luggage was done at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) here.
"On the direction of the defence ministry, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued orders for the withdrawal of this facility as of Oct 15. The decision has been taken after reports that this concession was misused in the past," the newspaper said.
New standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been devised and notified that would now make US and UN officials to go through normal checks.
Gammon gate of the BBIA, which was basically meant for catering services and had a direct outside airport link without passing through immigration and customs checks, was specified for US and UN officials too.
"This special facility allowed the Americans to have unchecked arrivals and departures to and from the Islamabad airport," The News said.
It quoted sources to say this facility "was massively misused and there were reports of even unauthorised and undeclared import of sensitive material and equipment, including weapons. This fact raised serious alarm bells among the Pakistani authorities and forced them to withdraw the facility that was given to the Americans by the former dictator without proper consultation and consideration".
This concession is not even available to the president and prime minister of Pakistan who, though they enjoy full protocol and VVIP treatment, go through the mandatory checks in the US, the sources said.
"Interestingly, Musharraf offered such concessions to the Americans despite Washington's extraordinary strict immigration and security checks from all those coming from Pakistan, including VVIPs. During one of Musharraf's official tours to the US, his media spokesman Rashid Qureshi, who was then a brigadier, was made to untie his military boots at the Dallas Airport," the newspaper pointed out.
In view of the security concerns, the CAA issued an order Sep 25 announcing the withdrawal of Gammon Gate facility. The operative part of the order reads: "Pursuant to the instructions received from the Defence Ministry vide letter No 2-1/2009-ASF dated Sep 16, 2009, the facility of use of Gammon Gate by the officialsvehicles of the US embassy and UN missions may be withdrawn w.e.f Oct 15, 2009."
Government authorities admit that customs and immigration authorities have no arrangements or staff to check the movement and crew of US and UN officials.
"The equipment related to aeroplanes, the crew and their personal luggage also passes through this gate. During checking, US vehicles and the luggage they carry to and from apron area are not properly searched/checked by the (security) staff deputed to control the entry/exit at the Gammon Gate," one document says, adding that in view of this, the use of the gate by foreigners should be stopped forthwith as it posed a serious security hazard.
US embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said he did not know about the extraordinary concession offered to the US officials and diplomats at the BBIA. He said what he knew was the fact that even when senior US officials arrived at the Chaklala military airbase in adjacent Rawalpindi, they went through normal immigration and customs checks.