news in depth:BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Alargely unknown, but wealthy businessman, Mian Sohail Qaiser, is threatening to ignite a diplomatic row between Zimbabwe and Pakistan. 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, a Zimbabwean of Pakistani extraction, 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.
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 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.
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 is 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.
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. 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,” read a March 9, 2020 letter to Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs ministry.
It added: “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 then James Manzou, the permanent secretary in the ministry.
The retention of Waqas Ahmed as the protocol attaché 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 attaché, 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.
“The silence on the part of the ministry leads us to believe that Mian Sohail Qaiser enjoys some invisible protection and is part of some cartel — as already denoted to the honourable permanent secretary,” the embassy wrote.
In another letter, the embassy described Qaiser’s actions as highly objectionable and wanted to know who allowed the video recording, who did the recording and where
Also attached were letters from the Zimbabwe Asian Association and a report of an investigation on Qaiser suggesting that he was staying in Zimbabwe illegally.
Manzou said they were investigating the Qaiser issue.
“The ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade confirms that, indeed, the embassy of Pakistan brought a case against Mr Mian Sahil relating to the published videos of a Pakistan national currently in detention in Zimbabwe,” Manzou said.
“The ministry immediately responded to the note verbales from the embassy, informing them that the case was referred to the department of immigration as well as the police for thorough investigations.
“In pursuit of the case, and other related matters, I met the Pakistan charge d’ affaires, Mr Izzat Ahmad, thrice despite that due to Covid-19 restrictions, such face-to-face meetings had been proscribed by the law.
“This was a sign of how seriously the ministry wanted to get to the bottom of this case without prejudice.”
The Immigration department said only the Foreign Affairs ministry could comment on Qaiser’s issue as it involved diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
The Pakistani embassy also refused to comment on the matter, saying diplomatic issues were never solved in the media.
“Who gave you the documents? I am not aware of them. Ask the person who gave you those papers,” Ahmed said, before terminating the call.
It also emerged that several Pakistani businessmen were allegedly duped by the controversial businessman, who later facilitated their deportation from Zimbabwe.
“Qaiser enters into business deals with Pakistanis who do not have proper documentation to stay in the country.
“After they invest their money, he causes their arrest and subsequent deportation,” said an embassy official, who requested to remain anonymous.
“It is alleged Qaiser has been using his links with Zanu PF and state institutions to influence some decisions like the arrest and deportation of his business partners. There are also questions on why he is always present when Pakistanis are arrested.
“What is his interest? His organisation represents Asians who are resident in Zimbabwe, not those coming in and out of the country, but he is always there when they are arrested, why?” added the source.
In an interview, Qaiser dismissed the accusations by the embassy.
He said he only assisted the detained Pakistanis as a humanitarian gesture after he discovered that they were victims of human trafficking.
He accused the embassy staff of running a human trafficking cartel with their colleagues from the Malawian embassy.
“I helped on the release of the two women; one of them had a three-year-old baby,” Qaiser said. “I asked for an interview after their release.”
He claimed the two women deported from Zimbabwe were only in Pakistan for a week, they travelled to Malawi where they were smuggled into South Africa with the help of the Pakistani embassies in Zimbabwe and Malawi.
He admitted recording an interview with the detained Pakistani national while in the company of immigration officials.
Qaiser said he shared the video with a colleague from the Pakistani community in South Africa, who posted it on his Facebook timeline before he shared it.
He denied capturing state institutions as alleged by the embassy.
The businessman said he would report the embassy to President Emmerson Mnangagwa for its alleged human trafficking crimes.
“I will meet him [Mnangagwa]; he needs to know what is happening in that embassy.
“They are criminals and they are enraged with the videos because I exposed to their country what they are doing here in Zimbabwe,” Qaiser said.
He denied using forged papers to stay in Zimbabwe, as well as leading a bogus organisation to counter the Zimbabwe and Pakistan Friendship Association led by Tariq Farooq.
He also denied duping Pakistanis of their money, claiming he was actually a victim and gave an example of a dispute with one Majid Khan.
Quaiser claimed that he gave Majid Khan US$78 000 and another US$53 000 for a consignment of sports apparel that was never delivered.
He dragged Majid Khan to court, but Harare magistrate Nomsa Sabarauta acquitted him, saying Qaiser’s case and the testimonies of his witnesses lacked merit.
Majid Khan, who used to sponsor Zimbabwe Cricket, said he entered into a partnership with Qaiser and supplied him with six consignments of sports apparel but was threatened when he followed up on payments.
He claimed he was duped of US$100 000 in the trade deal, when they entered into a partnership where he controlled a 49% stake and Qaiser, 51% in line with the country’s indigenisation laws.
“Mr Main Sohail Qaiser refused to pay money for the goods received and refused to pay money for the Max Sports received through local sales in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“In September 2017, while I was on a business trip to Zimbabwe, Mr Main Sohail Qaiser registered a false case against me using his connection with police in Harare for which I was stuck there for almost three and a half months until the honourable courts of Zimbabwe acquitted me on December 11, 2017.
“He [Qaiser] still continues to threaten that if I come to Zimbabwe again to demand my money, as well as following up the case in court, he will do something bad to me again and cause trouble for me,” added Majid Khan.