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Neeyat in the visa game


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There’s little doubt that the “operationalisation” of the visa agreement between India and Pakistan is a welcome development.

For the first time in many, many, years, the two countries have shown the will to inch forward in what remains a long journey to normality.

New visa categories, including one for group visitors, have been created and senior citizens over the age of 65 can be granted a visa on arrival at the Attari-Wagah border. You might even be able to enter and exit from different points.

Those who have travelled between India and Pakistan know how important these developments are. There’s no taking away their significance.

Having personally seen the wretched lot of visa-seekers in both Islamabad and Delhi, one can only hope and pray that these measures are implemented in letter and a different, healthier spirit.

In both India and Pakistan, the elite do tend to manage their visas, but post-David Coleman Headley, the American national who came to recce the 26/11 targets in Mumbai, the Indian bureaucracy has clamped down hard on Pakistani nationals and those of Pakistani origin.

Indian officials are loath to give visas to persons of Pakistani origin, preferring to play it safe after the Headley episode. The ease with which Headley travelled to India had also led Delhi to impose a bizarre rule that those travelling on tourist visas could not enter the country twice in two months.

This rule was relaxed only on December 4, but still applies to nationals from Pakistan, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Bangladesh. So, the suspicions and danger of what might happen remains very strong in the Indian establishment.

But what happens is that innocents suffer when such regulations are strengthened. Of course, the security establishment will tell you that such things are bound to happen in an environment of militancy and violence.

Having lived as an Indian correspondent in Islamabad for a little over three years, I have my own visa stories. But will save those for another time. The fact is that suspicions about India and Indians remain strong in the Pakistani establishment – perhaps equal to that of India!

The point I’m making is that while rules and regulations between India and Pakistan are certainly important, neeyat (intent) is equally important. Do the establishments actually want to help people travel between the two countries?

Do the security officials mean what they say? Will they be liberal in granting visas or raise procedural questions? Will you always need more paperwork to prove that you have a reason to visit Harappa or the Taj? Will the consulates in Karachi and Mumbai ever re-open?

I’m not so sure. While individual officials are certainly helpful, the overall attitude in officialdom on both sides of the border is one of suspicion, with hostility lurking in the background.

And, given that members of divided families, many of them poor, travel at times of death or illness, a degree of empathy should be built in to how we deal with individual Pakistanis or Indians.

But we are far, far away from such a situation. Instead, the hostility that is reserved for the poor and underprivileged in South Asia gets the added taint of being a national of the “enemy” State.

Six decades on, India and Pakistan still issue police reporting visas for most visitors coming and going to our countries. (Can anyone enlighten me if there are other countries that do the same?)

So, if the inside of a police station-on-arrival is what you see, will your impression of the “other country” improve?

My view: No.


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (9) Closed

Khalid Dec 17, 2012 09:49am
Amit, you rightly pointed out the difficulty to be faced MOSTLY or ONLY by the ordinary individuals of both the countries unlike elite or media persons. Police reporting visa should be abolished and must need to introduce the friendly Immigration System likewise other countries where both nationals usually travel unlike most favorite neighboring countries of India / Pakistan. All we can PRAY for the BEST by increasing TRUST & developing HOSPITALITY.
Piklu Dec 19, 2012 05:23am
Wonder why I do not see such head ache and anticipation in Indian media about visa liberalizations with Pakistan? Seems like the interest in unidirectional and it is understandably so...India is inviting its own disease
Khalid Dec 19, 2012 05:07am
It's a vice versa dear...! I refer to Amit's topic "Neeyat" either with +ve / -ve attitude. It falls on both sides if agree on same wavelength with all security concerns but with friendly hospitality or leave it as it is...who cares?
Rajesh Dec 17, 2012 05:59pm
Yes. Intent or Neeyat is important. However, like many other agreements this will also gather dust in the offices. Granting of the Visa is a tactical affair and is granted based on current political temperature and not because two people signed on a doc.
Gujesh Dec 18, 2012 07:13am
Large number of Bangladeshis have come on official visas and have not gone back. Their number is more than 50000 and they are not traceable. Same thing will happen with Pakistanis also. And we dont know how many of them are terrorists. We are liberalising Visa regime without any concrete action by Pakistan to curb the menace of terrorism.
Guru Dec 17, 2012 09:26am
I think that opening up the visa walls, is premature. Given the history of hostility, we should have a better wavelength match at governmental level before we raise the expectations of the people. God forbid, one of these visa applicants happens to be party to an attack in India, the gates will require too much effort to open next time.
pankajdehlavi Dec 17, 2012 05:27pm
Correct ?
Da'Greek Dec 17, 2012 06:08pm
Amit, does America practice the same visa regulation with both Canada and Mexico? therein lies the answer. Now before everyone starts getting crazy for comparing India with USA the analogy Iam trying to make is if there is mismatch then things cant be matched. Pakistan and Pakistanis have to improve their own standing in terms of economic growth, industry, inward investments from global players. So for a start the visa's should be relaxed for industry to industry exchange. See the results and the growth achieved. If we see an improvement without abuse from either side that should lead to next steps. Infact Pakistani industry has valid concerns regarding Indian industries, the issue with Pakistan cement being sent to India is one. The gas pipeline is another. On a practical note the elderly on both sides were keeping the bonds going. If they were 20 years old at 1947 they are 80 now!!! how many want to travel anywhere let alone across nations.
Pradip Dec 24, 2012 04:38pm
When I first went to Western Europe with an Indian passport, over two decades ago, I had to report to the police. I was on a visitor visa. This was necessary for all people coming from non- EU countries. I have no idea whether it continues but in a post 9/11, scenario, the visa regime will have tightened a lot more. In addition, all visitors (foreign or local) staying at hotels had to provide a valid ID - the report would be collected by the local police every day...again I would suspect this practice still continues. The US on the other hand has had no such police reporting - neither did Canada and AUS/NZ for that matter - including hotel ID - although the credit cards could be construed as alternative ID these days-without pictures. Countries in South east Asia had no such requirements either that I know of but I had a EU passport and business visa for a limited time period was given on arrival unlike the previously mentioned countries where you need a visa prior to boarding the flight.