LAHORE, March 24: Speakers at a panel discussion on Saturday asked the governments of Pakistan and India to take steps to relax their visa policies to bring the people of two countries closer and promote peace in the region.
The discussion titled “Acknowledging the life and struggle of Kuldip Nayar and Dr Mubashir Hasan for peace in Pakistan and India” was organised by the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies at the Lahore Press Club. Eminent rights and cultural activists, intellectuals and senior journalists from both Pakistan and India shared their views on this occasion.
“People-to-people contacts through a relaxed visa policy are very important. I believe 99.99 per cent of people will vote to relax the visa policies if a referendum on Indo-Pak visa policies is arranged in the two countries. And if we seriously want to bring people of the subcontinent closer, both governments should announce visa-on-arrival policy,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretary General I.A. Rehman said on the occasion.
He said main hurdles in the development of two countries in the past were minor quarrels sowed by the British rulers.
“Actually, the then British rulers didn’t want to see unity among people of the subcontinent. That is why they sowed misunderstandings and differences in line with their policy of divide and rule. Under this policy it was decided to divide the region into two parts (Pakistan and India). Though we were divided into two countries, they couldn’t divide our culture, traditions and customs,” Mr Rehman said.
The veteran rights activist said Pakistan should be a democratic, secular and prosperous country like India. He said although many people in Pakistan and India had been making efforts for peace through people-to-people contacts for the last 25 years, some groups always tried to undo these efforts. He sighted the example of the European Union, where people could move freely without getting any visa. “Today it is easy for us to visit Western countries, but very difficult to visit India or Pakistan. Why don’t we adopt policies like European countries?” he asked. He said it was easy to make the politicians agree, but it was very difficult to convince two nations’ bureaucracies to relax visa policies. He said there were many people in Pakistan who couldn’t meet their relatives in India for a long time due to a tough visa policy. He appealed to Pakistani and Indian governments to relax the visa policies in the larger interest of their people.
Journalist Jutin Dasai from India said the governments of the two countries were thinking to relax visa policies just for businessmen willing to initiate trade activities across the border. “But no one is thinking about those unprivileged segments who want to meet each other in India and Pakistan,” he said and added that the two countries should at least relax visa policies for children aged 12 or less under a past agreement.
He said agreement in Pakistan on MFN status to India was about to mature soon and rulers of the two countries were required to make some extra efforts to relax visa policies for the common people planning to visit India and Pakistan for long. Dasai said if the two countries had decided to open the Wagah border crossing for free trade, they should also open the Khokhrapar-Munabao route.
Artist and cultural activist Madiha Gohar criticised current visa policies of the two countries. “The visa form is so difficult to fill. It clearly shows it’s not easy to get visa for Pakistan or India. We have visited many places in India to promote cultural activities and people at every place want relaxation in the visa policy,” she added.
Indian film director Mahesh Bhatt said: “Recently, I attended an Indo-Pak talent show in Dubai. I asked the organisers why they did not arrange it in Lahore, Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi or any other city of India or Pakistan. They (the organisers) said it was difficult to do so because of tough visa policies. I feel it is a matter of shame for us that we took our young talent to Dubai instead of our own cities.”
Dr Mubashir Hasan said intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan were main hurdle in the way of a “relaxed visa policy”.
Kuldip Nayar said it was need of the hour to relax visa policies for the sake of people of the two countries.
Later, Mr Nayar and Mr Hasan inaugurated the “Relax Pakistan-India visa regime” campaign. They were also given Sindhu Aman Awards on the occasion.
Journalist Hussain Naqi praised the campaign to get signatures of 100,000 people of India and Pakistan to press the two governments to relax their visa policies.