Monday September 26, 2022

Visa woes

By our correspondents
February 05, 2016

The evergreen issue of the Pakistan-India visa regime hit the headlines again after Indian actor Anupam Kher – whose connection with Hindutva fascism is well-known – alleged that he was denied a visa to attend the Karachi Literature Festival. Kher recently targeted and led rallies against those like actor Aamir Khan who spoke out against the rise of intolerance in India. Why someone who represents fascism would be invited to a festival meant to promote tolerance is mystifying in the first place. As it is, in this particular case, the details are a bit murky since Kher said he wasn’t given an NOC while the Foreign Office said it had never received his application and offered him a visa, which he certainly turned down. What is undeniable is that the two countries have made it unreasonably difficult to facilitate cross-border visits. India has added new restrictions to business visas, requiring those who apply for the Saarc-wide India business card to run enterprises worth at least Rs15.5 million, have a minimum annual income of Rs1.5 million and be registered with a recognised chamber of commerce. Last month 75 pilgrims were denied a visa and our blind cricket team also faced innumerable problems in obtaining their visas for the Asia Cup. Pakistan is still being kept out of the IPL and India seems in no mood to resume bilateral sporting ties.

The continued visa problems highlight the failure of Track-II diplomacy. At a time when political ties are all but suspended, the occasional overture from Sharif and Modi notwithstanding, the purpose of Track-II diplomacy was to foster an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation through person-to-person contact. Instead, all such exchanges mainly take place in third countries like Thailand. Diplomacy, no matter which track it is traversing, still requires governments that will allow people access to each other. Seventeen of the 18 Indians invited to the Karachi Literature Festival have received their visas and we will get to hear Indian voices. That, however, does not mean that ties are anywhere near being normalised. For that to happen, we will need more than artists and sportspersons meeting each other. Political breakthroughs will be required and the power to achieve that lies in the hands of the political actors in both countries.