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Visas on arrival

January 16, 2013

PAKISTAN and India have never had an easy relationship. But far from the posturing with which officialdom concerns itself, for the ordinary citizen on both sides one of the most immediate, personal problems has always been the tough visa restrictions between the two countries. That a liberalising agreement was inked out last September was greeted with relief by most people. It seemed, then, a comparatively rare moment of maturity when, on Monday, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad announced that from the next day forth, Pakistanis over 65 years of age would be issued visas on arrival if travelling through the Wagah-Attari border crossing. This was taken as indication that New Delhi was committed to taking Indo-Pakistan relations to the pre-Mumbai level, given that fresh tensions have developed along the line of control in Kashmir. The LoC clashes were on a small scale, but the intensity of political reaction — especially in India — has been out of proportion, with hawks on both sides advocating courses of action that were bound to set the normalisation process back.

Unfortunately, though, it now appears that such maturity may have been too much to hope for. Yesterday, Indian Home Secretary RK Singh said that the visa liberalisation plan had been put on hold while at a different forum, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that after the incidents in Kashmir, “there cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan. It is claimed that the visa deal has been held up for technical reasons; but it is impossible not to wonder whether India has succumbed to the line being peddled by the hawks. The only way forward lies in the normalisation of ties, inch by inch if it must be; both governments must do everything in their power to come to an agreement over non-contentious issues. A visa liberalisation regime is one of them.