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May 15, 2014

Indian journalists asked to leave Pakistan

May 15, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Two Indian journalists have been ordered to leave Pakistan within a week.When they returned home late last night, they found the typical ‘Sarkari’ brown colored envelope stuck to their doors informing them that the Government of Pakistan had decided not to extend their visas, which had expired in March and they would have to leave the country by May 20.
For the Press Trust of India’s Snehesh Alex Philip and The Hindu’s Ms Meena Menon, it was no great surprise because enough hints had been dropped a few days earlier by the Ministry of Information, External Publicity, that it would be prudent for them to start packing and book their tickets for home.
Both these Indian journalists have been here barely eight months while their predecessors spent four or five years here. It is an open question whether the government will grant visas to their replacements.
There is a written agreement between Pakistani and Indian governments where a reciprocalarrangement allows two correspondents from each country to be stationed in the other’s capital.
For several years now, no Pakistani journalist has requested for visa to be posted in India, though Delhi has assured that they would be willing to accommodate two Pakistani journalists. In the past journalists from APP and Radio Pakistan were posted but because of financial constraints they were called back.
However, New Delhi has been very liberal in issuing visas to Pakistani journalists for visits which has seen dozens of Pakistani journalists visiting in their personal capacity or as guests of the Ministry of External Affairs.
The News contacted Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Policy, Tariq Fatimi, who said: “I have been busy in meetings the whole day and am not aware of this development. The Ministry of Information would have all the details.”
Minister for Information, Pervez Rasheed, who is presently abroad told The News on phone: “The Nawaz Sharif government

has a very liberal visa regime, especially for foreign journalists including Indian journalists. As soon as I return to Pakistan, I will look into this matter as to why these Indian journalists are being denied visas.”
Some close aides of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told The News that though they tried to ensure that these two journalists were granted visas, it was completely out of their hands as decisions were being taken elsewhere. No one would, however, make this statement on record.
“The security establishment has certainly got it wrong as far as the timing is concerned. By throwing out these two journalists at this particular time, you are giving fodder to the anti-Pakistan forces in India, who are all set to form the new government. Or is this a message to the incoming Modi Sarkar?” a PML-N politician asked.
“We all know that visas for foreigners, especially for Indians, are handled by the security establishment. They have decided for reasons known best to them that these two Indian journalists should be asked to leave. By doing so, they have also sent a clear message to the Sharif government that in these matters as on issues like enhancing the trade ties with India, they still call the the shots,” a senior PML-N politician told The News.
The Indian government reacted quickly on Wednesday. “It is regrettable and unfortunate that two Indian correspondents in Pakistan have been asked to leave prematurely and suddenly. Not allowing independent journalists to function is a retrograde step. Free flow of information between India and Pakistan has long been recognised as an important confidence building measure,” tweeted Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesman at the Ministry of External Affairs.
Minister for External Affairs, Salman Khurshid, warned: “”Any such action on the journalists is not good for ties”.Syed Akbaruddin was asked whether the step of denying visas to the Indian journalists had anything to do with the recent media war in Pakistan where there have been allegations that the Jang Group was working on an Indian agenda through the Aman ki Asha programme, said he was surprised at numerous allegations against India in the ongoing controversy in Pakistan on media freedom and different views of Pakistani institutions.
“We are surprised that there have been numerous allegations against India in the ongoing controversy in Pakistan on media freedom and the different views of Pakistan institutions thereto. The stationing of journalists and free flow of information is an important CBM and should be safeguarded by all concerned,” responded Akbaruddin.
Meanwhile, M K Razdan, the editor-in-chief and CEO of PTI, said there was “no rationale and no reason” for the move. “It is a unilateral action and absolutely no reason has been given,” he said.
“We have other arrangements for news coverage in Pakistan but since decades the norm has been that the main correspondent to Pakistan is sent from India.” He added it was too early to say whether the agency would apply to send a replacement for Philip.The Hindu headquarters in Chennai meanwhile, kept a stony silence.
The Indian chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) said in a statement that a wrong message at a critical juncture when elections are taking place will only help the hardliners. “In a global world and especially when Indians and Pakistanis want closer ties and a much more open visa policy, we are of the opinion that both the countries should allow more journalists into each other’s country.”

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