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Walk across at Wagah


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THE sad truth is that, apart from playing with grandchildren, there are few joys in growing older. So when I read that India and Pakistan had decided to issue visas on arrival to each other’s senior citizens, I thought this was a definite plus.

I had assumed that our respective negotiators had some human feelings lurking deep within. On this basis, I had thought I could get on a plane in Karachi and, less than an hour later, be welcomed by smiling officials in Mumbai. Or take a flight in Lahore to arrive in Delhi, again within an hour, for a weekend.

Clearly, I had not factored in the mean-spiritedness of South Asian babus and their political masters. With an unerring instinct for making life difficult for me, they have, with infinite malice, decided that senior citizens will only get visas on arrival at the land border at Wagah, between Lahore and Amritsar.

This means that if I want to go to Mumbai from Karachi, I will have to take a flight to Lahore, then take a taxi to Wagah, cross the border on foot, take another taxi to Amritsar, and then get on a plane or train to Delhi. From there, I would need to get on another plane to Mumbai. Such a trip would take over a day when it ought to take no more than an hour. And of course it would cost a whole lot more.

Would somebody please explain the logic of such an arrangement? How am I more of a threat if I arrive by air? If the purpose of this gesture was to promote easy travel between India and Pakistan, it is clearly a non-starter.

Indeed, this petty-mindedness underlines the lack of trust and openness that characterises relations between the two countries. Never missing a chance to miss a chance to extend the hand of friendship, both compete to demonstrate their nasty side.

Having got this off my chest, let me say that in however reluctant a fashion, I am glad that there has been some movement in relations. Frozen since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai nearly four years ago, peace talks have resumed and made some progress. True, concessions have had to be forced out of each other, almost like a dentist extracting firmly anchored canine teeth. Long, convoluted talks have finally begun to produce some results in terms of trade and visa agreements. But while announcements have been made, they have yet to be translated into reality, with respective ministries on both sides delaying the issue of official guidelines and notifications.

God forbid bureaucrats on either side should be accused of being hasty. Playing safe and claiming they are acting on the basis of reciprocity, they are doing what they do best: nothing. All this foot-dragging and procrastination reflects on the long stasis in relations and the frozen attitudes on both sides. To emerge from this mentality will, I suppose, take time.

Meanwhile, the world is moving on. While the subcontinent struggles to emerge from its 60 plus years of deadlock and conflict, its people continue to suffer from the stubbornness and lack of courage and imagination of their leaders. While both India and Pakistan cling to past grievances and archaic positions, the rest of the world looks on with amazement and annoyance.

On Kashmir, Pakistan is now totally isolated: even our friends tell us to give it a rest and move on. The army is preoccupied with other, more urgent, threats. And while India can clamp down on the unfortunate valley indefinitely, the moral cost of military repression is rising. Given these realities, one would have thought that there was enough of an incentive for both sides to revisit the problem with a view to finally resolving it in a way that is acceptable to both.

Musharraf, while guilty of many things, did make a genuine effort to achieve a breakthrough. He thought outside the box on Kashmir, and was genuine in his desire to resolve the festering issue once and for all.

Before him, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif tried to make peace. On the Indian side, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee did their best to reciprocate, but were frustrated by their own hawks, and in the latter’s case, by Musharraf’s madcap adventure in Kargil.

We need to learn from past failures and not dwell on them. In Pakistan, civilian efforts at peacemaking have been sabotaged by both the military and the militants. But now it seems there is growing realisation in the GHQ that our sickly economy cannot generate the resources to maintain our present level of armed forces. And if the economy is to get a boost, one way is through trade with India.

While some sectors of Pakistan’s business community fear competition from its giant neighbour, there appears to be a consensus that overall, open trade and investments would result in a win-win situation for both sides. Pakistan’s rupee is trading at a far weaker rate than India’s against the dollar, and this alone would give our exports an advantage.

Fortunately, both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, leaders of Pakistan’s biggest political parties, have publicly and repeatedly stated their belief in good relations with India. And it appears that both sides have tacitly agreed to put the intractable Kashmir issue on the back burner while they get on with a host of other matters. This has long been India’s position, and I am glad good sense has prevailed in Islamabad and the GHQ.

But even good sense is not proof against bureaucratic pettiness. Diplomats in both foreign ministries have been trained in intransigence when it comes to each other. Their default position is to say ‘no’. For precisely this reason, when my old friend Tariq Aziz, Musharraf’s national security adviser, was running back-channel talks with his Indian counterpart, he and his boss kept our Foreign Office out of the loop.

So while hoping for the best, we need to be realistic in our expectations. Small things like the import of popular Indian movies are to be applauded. And even if senior citizens have to trudge across the border at Wagah, we will just have to live with it.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

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Comments (40) Closed

Allaisa Xuver
Oct 06, 2012 11:31am
While India has already started to implement most of the Visa agreement, Pakistan has been dragging its feet all because Malik probably sees a 'foreign hand' in this and wants to implement it only 'at appropriate time' which only he can decide.
Dhanus Menon
Oct 06, 2012 08:53am
The question is why do you want to come to India. You can get on with your life and we will mind our business. The sooner you people get out of your India centric life the better for you. Instead of first advocating better relations why dont you clean up your house first.
Oct 06, 2012 11:29am
your dream is not so possible in near future, Mr Author. You have made mess of your country by creating religious fanatic monsters. You need to clean your country first then expect India and world will believe you. In fact, It is india's whole heartedness that they are still reciprocating and trying to manage the situations. Otherwise, your past military govt and dictators was always in favor bad relationship with India for their own sake. I still think letting pakistani travel to India (even though they are senior citizen) like this is a good move. You never know who are innocent and who are terrorists. Any way, It's good that people like you are there in pakistan who value the good relations and admit the misadventure of musharraf in kargil. but friend, dilli abhi dur hain...
Hindu Kush
Oct 06, 2012 09:00am
Hypocritical of you to then come here and post.
Dilip Kumar Roy
Oct 06, 2012 08:23am
Mr Husain, if you still choose to come to Mumbai (Karachi-Lahore-Wagah-Amritsar-Chandigarh-Mumbai), a hearty dinner awaits you. Pomfret (diamond shaped) fish cooked Goan style with Rice or Bombay Ducks (its a fish, not a bird) fried Malwan style with rotis made of ground rice (chawal ka atta). This is a standing invitation for you from me and my family - take me on this whenever you choose to come. Bring Daniel along to play with my daughter, Tuhina.
Oct 06, 2012 07:36am
>Musharraf, while guilty of many things, did make a genuine effort to achieve a breakthrough. He thought outside the box on Kashmir, Do you Kargill episode, which Indians view as "backstabbing" ? If this thinking outside the box, maybe we need more thinking" inside the box"
Iftikhar Husain
Oct 06, 2012 11:59am
It is a good wish but long way to be a easy visitor like we do in Europe.
Pitambara Mishra
Oct 06, 2012 12:17pm
Excelent gesture of good will.Let us understand each other.
Oct 06, 2012 12:40pm
I can clearly tell that you were born long after 1947. I dont expect your generation to understand why the older generation wants to go across the border freely at least once before they die. Once these oldies die out, so will the desire to travel to India. Let me assure you that your age counterparts in Pakistan have no desire whatsoever to travel to India.
Sunder Lal Dua
Oct 06, 2012 06:11am
If any citizens are allowed to board aeroplane at Karachi for Mumbai, security sieve facilities have to be provided to India at Karachi for which Pakistanis are not ready. Therefore, even senior citizens also have to travel through Wagha Border. Regarding trade, visa and military issues, Pakistan in its zeal to militarily match India, has become a financially unviable state. Instead of lining up for money from Saudi Arabia, US and China etc, it is in the long term interests of Pakistan and even India to resolve trade and visa issues and keep other problems on the back burner like China and India.
Ajaya K Dutt
Oct 06, 2012 12:44pm
It is not petty mindedness. Guess what it is.
irfan husain
Oct 06, 2012 12:51pm
Thanks for this kind invitation, Dilip.
Oct 06, 2012 01:07pm
just as you find visiting dawn website to be above mundane rivalry,many intellectual people on the other side don't see everything from religious perspective.there is also a shared legacy in mughal architecture.they disowned it voluntarily by separating and then berating akbar,but they have a right to come and see the tajmahal and fatehpur can take solace in the fact that they would then say,ah we have missed this all along
Oct 07, 2012 06:06pm
Well Said kshetrajna,..Very matured comments from you and reflect the thought of Modern Indian generation..
Oct 07, 2012 12:43am
You are foolish to insult Mr Husain like this. Why do you spew up so much hatred on him? People like you on both sides are responsible for the current situation. It is time for both India and Pakistan to act with maturity and humanity. I am an Indian like you and I know both countries have to clean up a lot of accumulated mess.
M. Salim
Oct 06, 2012 04:38am
Excellent assessment indeed and resonates with the divided families and friends. I am sure if Rahman Malik and his like minded are taken out of the equation the teaming millions in the sub-continent would heave a great sigh of relief
Oct 07, 2012 06:43pm
......Open borders removes misunderstandings and provides better dialogue between the peoples of our nations...... Mr. Mehta nobody cares about a peaceful neighbour taking a stroll in their garden. but, if from the same family, we have some bitter experiences in the past, then naturally we become suspicious of their actions. likewise, not one saner indian would care which pakistani visits their country: afterall they do bring foreign currency in our country. and, their are lots of monuments like TAJMAHAL, REDFORT from mughal times, with which pakistanis relate themselves. we hindus also feel the same about GANDHAR, TAKSHILA, HARAPPA and MOHENJODARO. the feeling is mutual. the desire to visit the other side of WAGAH, is equal in both of us however, above all, is the security of innocent citizens. we have lost thousands of innocent citizens in bomb blasts(yes, MUMBAI attacks are not alone: DELHI, AYODHYA, VARANASI, AHEMADABAD, PUNE, BANGLORE have also lost innocent citizens. please do include them in count). so, i give up my desire to see all those monuments, for the security of my fellow countrymen. and, if pakistanis are equally paranoid, about their security, i do not see any problem here. afterall, they feel that insurgency in balochistan and support to TTP is provided by indians. so, i agree with the bureaucrats of both countries, who have a very fine line to tread, when one attack, which can be traced to the other side of border, would spell doom for the govt. nobody has a problem with Mr. Irfan travelling via plane, but we should never forget, that it was the water below that was used to launch attack on mumbai. regards
Oct 06, 2012 05:05am
Having good relatios with india will help us and help them as well. War benefits only few and general public is definately not the one getting benefit. The Kashmir issue in my openion is only created by both sides leaders to keep their shops open. Normal people dont need all the politics they need a normal life without poverty and loadshedding and with security. Who so ever provides this to them is the best person for them it does not matter if that person is male or female, hindu or muslim, dictator or democrate.
Oct 06, 2012 07:00am
Sir for you to travel from Karachi to Mumbai in a plane and be granted a visa on arrival will take some more time if the talks remain on track between the two nations.
Oct 07, 2012 03:09pm
Very Good Article.. Time for India and Pakistan to resolve all the outstanding issues amicably and move on futher as friends supporting each other to become developed nations.. Both the countries have so much talent that best results can be achieved by spending the efforts and funds for the positive causes than for the negatives.. Hopefully Leaders on both sides realise and work towards this by putting aside their political gimmick.
Oct 06, 2012 11:15am
haha well said
Oct 07, 2012 06:21pm
From Me too....What ever Irfan Bhai wants to have !! You are welcome Irfan Bhai... thanks for such a nice and candid article .
Sam Manekshaw
Oct 06, 2012 06:05pm
He does have a point though
Oct 07, 2012 03:23am
I completely share Mr. Irfan Hussein's sentiments. We are one nation by blood and history. A large section of Pakistanis now believe partition was a great blunder. So let us forget the past and try to build a new future. Start with small steps and slowly overcome the circle of hatred.
Oct 07, 2012 02:11am
Well said !Standing invitation to Irfan Bhai ,a rare sane voice from Pakistan, from me too !
sheikh siddeeque
Oct 06, 2012 11:39pm
I think it is about time that both India and Pakistan start living like civilized neighbours.
Oct 06, 2012 11:50pm
I left India long ago.I'm a usa national.I often stand in line at many que,where I often meet Pakistani,to day was no exception.Like all Pakistani he was very polite and gentle.He was full of admiration for India,within few minutes,I assured him soon Pakistan would be ok too.I think horrendous mistakes were made,I think you will forgive me,I say with no malice for Pakistan,in fact I cut greater slack for Pakistan guy than Indians,but I think Pakistan lost a great deal more than India in this short sighted policy.India,sometime feels,it does not need Pakistan,and acts arrogently,but Pakistan without giving up its self respect and quite dignity,still can right the course by imaginative,policy,just need not rub,tolerant, but less religious ,Hindus,unnecessary dose of religious lecture about islam,it will go a long way.I'm least religious person,even I 'm rubbed wrong by lot of pious Muslims,it is totally uncalled for.For once,do not wear your religion on sleeve,let it be private,things will be fine.
Oct 06, 2012 03:01pm
There is a lot of talk in the article and in the comment section about 'mutual benefit' for India and Pakistan. At this stage of the game, with the economies of the two countries the way they are, India derives little or no benefit with any interaction with Pakistan. The only 'benefit' India is looking for is a halt to export of terrorism which Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to provide. So, the current 'take it or leave it' attitude of India be it related to hardships of visa or trade, is quite justifiable and appropriate.
Rashid Maqsood
Oct 06, 2012 03:03pm
Dhanus Bhai, I want to come to India, because it is as much a part of me. Yes, we separated 65 years ago. But you cannot separate the millenia previous to that. I live in Canada and we negotiated open skies with US. What a great concept. I go to Europe and pass through the Schengen zone with such ease. No rancour. Just smiles and courtesy, in Europe that fought over every thing possible. Why cannot Indian and Pakistan move forward and re-discover each other.
Oct 06, 2012 05:09pm
For better India-Pak relations must do following :- Imran Khan - Prime Minister, Replace Rehman Malik with Zardari Navaz Sharif - Defence Minister Mussaraf - President ISI under Interior Minister Replace Army Chief with Air chief Make Army Chief as Naval Chief Close all training camps. Make Pakistan as Secular country
Oct 06, 2012 06:57pm
Because of people like you, we have this situation between two countries. Many Indians do believe that India is next super power, I do NOT want to burst your bubble but India has a long way to go to become a developed country let alone a superpower.
VK Menockie
Oct 06, 2012 07:00pm
Visa on arrival is not a right for any senior citizen...its a facility available to them, The last check point of a country is at the arrival immigration desk regardless its an airport or land crossing.A person holding valid visa can be denied admittance to the country for various reasons.Considering the sensitive relationship we share the current arrangement of this facility being granted at wagha border is the best option.
VK Menockie
Oct 06, 2012 07:08pm
Mr,Menon,I presume you hail from Kerala and do not have any friends or relatives living in Pakistan who would want to visit you. But the case is different for others,specially people living in north and across the border.
New Jersey
Oct 06, 2012 07:27pm
As a senior citizen I can understand your plight to enter India. My parents and forefathers were born in Punjab before partition. Petiness and prejudices on the part of politicians and bureucrats has created a mess of the subcontinent and the life of its citizens. Open borders removes misunderstandings and provides better dialogue between the peoples of our nations. Except for a few differences there are more things in commom with us. We look similar, dress similarly and enjoy similar oods. You think people in other countries can distinguish an Indian from a Pakistani. We need to move forward with the world and start thinking about the benefits that open communication can have on the majority of our people. Let us be patriotic but with an open mind to help the poor masses of our countries. Thank you for your unbiased assessment of the situation.. Surendra Mehta
Agha Ata (USA)
Oct 06, 2012 04:27pm
Fortunately you are a Hindu. Had you been a Muslim and had your family torn apart, half in India and half in Pakistan, you wouldn't have asked this question.
Krish Chennai
Oct 06, 2012 04:46pm
I would like to back up Mr.Dilip Roy's offer with idlis,dosas and coffee, and typical vegetarian fare if you choose to visit South India too.
surendra mehta
Oct 08, 2012 06:06pm
Mr. Mani, Let us become a little more tolerant after 65 years of independence. I can appreciate and do not condone the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the border due to fundamentalists. Our attitude towards each other has to change beginning with small steps to establish trust and respect for each other. If we follow the attitude of eye for an eye both of the nations will be blind. These reconciliatory attitudes are a sign of strength not weakness. Both nations have a rich history and like to leave something positive for generations to come. Surendra MehtaDate: Mon, 8 Oct 2012 10:20:21 +0000 To:
A Bose
Oct 06, 2012 03:16am
Well written! Lets hope sanity prevails and both countries intertwined from birth in respect of culture history should make a peace for the same of humanity.
Oct 07, 2012 05:49pm
Imran Saab, Apologies for the 'un emotional' comments from my friend Dhanus..It is not that we don't want our Pakistan friends to come to India, You are always welcome, older generation or younger generation , but the confidence is lost due to the path of terrorism. Our governments needs to be much more sincere in elimianating these negative aspects for the people to interact with out any hesitations.. Imran Saab we respect our elders and the emotions they carry..We request you to spread the message of love among younger Pakistani generation as well so that they can also think of coming to India same like we like to roam in the streets of Lahore Lakshmi Chowk or the streets of Peshawar , Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Baloch..Insha Allah.. Aaadab
Oct 06, 2012 06:49am
Agree that this visa on arrival only at Wagah border makes no sense. I cannot fathom why visa on arrival cannot be extended to senior citizens traveling by air.