Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Isloo mafia: pitfalls for the diplomats by Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

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Much has been written about various mafias like the Sicilian, Russian, 18thStreet Gang, Colombian Cartels, Chinese Triads and many more. Here in Pakistan a new mafia seems to have made inroads into our polity that may aptly be called “The Islo mafia”. This unscrupulous business mafia, mostly comprising businessmen, businesswomen, so-called media practitioners, real estate agents etc, is out to trap unwary diplomats. And then use their privileged positions for various purposes  acquiring visas being at the top of the list. This mafia adopts various innovative ways to trap their unsuspecting targets. Their normal modus operandi is to first invest in certain key individuals who can potentially deliver on their varied needs. These investments are made in different shapes.

Members of such mafias tend to invite their preferred diplomats for something as harmless as a lunch or a dinner to begin with. Over time, after due softening up or cementing of the relationship/s, handsome amounts of money in the guise of “sponsorship” are offered for National Days or other cultural, musical or charitable embassy events. One thing leads to another. Different shades of obligations yield different fruits. And so this dance gets danced all the year around. Whoever minded dancing!

Ostensibly, not all diplomatic missions fall prey to these otherwise irresistible temptations. However, the number of such happenings seems to have increased beyond tolerable levels during the past few years. It is quite disturbing to observe a few diplomatic missions willingly accepting funds from members of such mafias for holding their National Days. Nothing can be more undiplomatic than this.  If a mission does not have the means to celebrate its Day, it ought to let the day pass quietly rather than accept such cost prohibitive favours. Surely, the diplomats can easily discern the quid pro quo while accepting funds. After all, their years of training of reading between the lines should raise alarm bells.

A few years ago a diplomat told me that a member of such mafia came to him; offered him a handsome amount for their National Day function. He said he was greatly touched and humbled by the goodwill gesture shown by that particular person. But then soon after the function he came to his office with a bunch of passports and asked for visas. The diplomat said he was flabbergasted and did not know how to handle the situation. These mafias normally arrange business or group tours abroad and secure visas for them by using their compromised connections in the diplomatic community. The members of such group tours never return once abroad. The “visa guarantee” enables these mafias to charge tour group members exorbitantly.

 One also recalls, a few years ago an ambassador was obliged enough to entertain a group visa request from some mafia people. That group never returned. The ambassador consequently was recalled to his home country, probed and demoted from ambassador to charge d affaires. He is in service and serving as charge d’affaires in another country. Too steep a cost for a little carelessness surely.

 There is another category of genuine travellers who somehow cannot get visas. They are also constrained to approach these mafias in order to get their passports stamped. They just want to have a travel history and do not mind paying huge sums. There are, in all probability, others too in need of travel visas. End beneficiaries. Isloo mafia!

But all said and done, diplomats involved in such practices are not that many. What the diplomatic community can do to discourage such practices is to boycott all National Day and Independence Day events that are fully funded by third parties. It is, however, encouraging that only a very small number of diplomats attend such functions. They seem aware of these malpractices and such turncoat elements. Newcomers being more vulnerable need awareness tips from old hands. Respective organizations need to identify black-sheep within their ranks and bring them to justice in order to effectively check and foil such nasty practices.

And while on the subject of mafias, an interesting segment is the “gatecrashing mafia” comprising both men and women. They specialise in gatecrashing most if not all the diplomatic functions. They like to socialize or enjoy the diverse hospitality, no matter they are not invited. They cannot make it to the embassies due to security checks but hotels are fair game. Success assured. One, they are too well dressed to arouse suspicion. Two, they know the locale very well. Three, they time their entry with the chief guest or cake cutting or playing of the national anthems.