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NEW DELHI: India is quietly moving ahead with visa curbs for Pakistanis, the Indian Express said on Friday, stressing that artists, singers and actors would be among the first group to be singled out for “maximum visibility”.

The paper said the measure could be the “first retaliatory step” by India against the death sentence awarded to Indian naval commander Kulbhushan Jadhav by a military court in Pakistan.

India says Jadhav, who was tried by a military court and sentenced to death on Monday, was an innocent Indian kidnapped from Iran.

Several Indian groups that usually campaign for improving relations with Pakistan have condemned the death sentence. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation said the verdict was a human rights violation.

Leftist students at Jawaharlal Nehru University weighed in against the sentence on Jadhav, most vocal being student leader Umar Khalid who has previously spoken out against atrocities in Kashmir.

“Capital punishment has no place in a democracy. And those who continue with this form of punishment cannot call themselves a democracy,” he wrote in a web post. “Hanging Jadhav would be a travesty of justice and everything needs to be done to stop it.”

Mr Khalid, however, accused rightwing Indian groups of hypocrisy on the Jadhav issue.

“You cannot be in the forefront of both demanding the stopping of Jadhav’s hanging by Pakistan state and supporting and celebrating capital punishment by the Indian state. Most of those hanged in India, or on death row presently are dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, Kashmiris,” Mr Khalid said.

“This double-standard only shows that it is not concern for Kulbhushan Jadhav, the human being, but the geo-strategic politics of two nuclear powers that is behind the present outrage of the ruling classes and their hireling TV anchors,” Mr Khalid wrote.

The Indian Express quoted foreign ministry sources as saying that the initial idea was to block all visas for Pakistani nationals, but it was decided to “test” the waters by first targeting a “high visibility” group.

Sources told the paper that although there had been no explicit instructions given to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, a “go-slow mode” was being activated.

“Officials said the government is toying with the idea of placing a blanket ban, too,” the report stated. But it was acknowledged that this would be difficult to implement as there are many categories requiring humanitarian intervention, including patients and students.

New Delhi and Islamabad are still at loggerheads over the issue of diplomatic visas over the last six months. After diplomats from both sides were withdrawn last year, at least 10 diplomatic visas — for diplomats and diplomatic staff — were pending, the Express said.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017