Pakistan diplomat accused of trafficking sets diplomatic row with Zimbabwe: Report

Mian Sohail Qaiser
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A Pakistan-origin businessman settled in Zimbabwe has accused Harare-based Pak embassy staffers of running a human trafficking racket to smuggle nationals into South Africa, according to a report in Zimbabwe’s The Standard newspaper.

The businessman, Mian Sohail Qaiser, had recently released videos of some of the men and women caught by authorities who named the Pakistani diplomat. The release of the video statements of people while they were in custody angered the Pakistan embassy so much that they wrote a string of letters to Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry insisting on a probe into the videos and the businessman Qaiser’s links in the government.

The Standard’s report was mostly based on leaked communications from the Pakistan embassy to the government and interviews of the people concerned. In these letters, Islamabad asked how Qaiser could not only get access to prisoners and film their interviews. That Qaiser had access to official and confidential documents in highly-sensitive institutions such as immigration and the foreign office, the embassy wrote in one of the letters, was “astonishing”.

But it was the videos that Qaiser made that appeared to have upset the Pakistani embassy the most. These videos were later posted on social media “damaging the reputation and prestige of Pakistan and embassy of Pakistan”, the embassy complained according to the report. In these videos, one of the men said that the Pakistan embassy staffer had hosted him at home before driving him to the border.

The controversy has its origins in the arrest of three Pakistanis — one male and two females — in Beitbridge in October-November 2019. They revealed the link to the embassy staffer during questioning. The suspected involvement of embassy staffers was also reported by another Zimbabwe news outlet, but this report hadn’t named Pakistan. This report, however, underscored that Zimbabwe was being used as a transit point enroute to South Africa via illegal crossing points along the Limpopo River or Beitbridge border post.

The news report said Pakistani embassy, which had sent 7 note verbales to the foreign ministry in this case – some of them directed at businessman Qaiser – had sought meetings with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo. But the requests hadn’t been acceded to, allegedly due to Qaiser’s influence in the government.

Qaiser, a Zimbabwean of Pakistani origin, contested as a ruling Zanu PF municipal candidate in the 2018 general election. He lost, and is reportedly planning to run for parliament in Zimbabwe’s general elections in 2023.

An unnamed official of the Pakistani embassy told the newspaper that Qaiser had abused his links with the ruling Zanu PF to influence decisions like arrest and deportation of his business partners and wondered how he was already around when Pakistani nationals were arrested.