Liberalizing visa regime

By K.N. Pandita

Visa liberalization, like grant of MFN to India, has been on the anvil for a long time with the civilian government in Pakistan. Previously it did receive green signal at civilian official level but was shot down by the Army.

How did Pakistani COAS, Gen. Kayani let it go through this time is a question analysts are trying to sort out.  Is it pressure from Washington or economic compulsions driving Pakistan to wall? Whatever, Kayani has made history.  

But the tenacious jihadi organization headed by Hafiz Saeed and its like-minded fanatics are not reconciled to Krishna-Hinna bipartisan approach. This is a bizarre situation. After all everybody knows that the army and the ISI midwifed Pakistani Taliban. Why a change of heart now?

On the other hand, there are liberals and right wing groups in Pakistan who have welcomed it. They call it de-freezing process of bilateral relations.

Short –sighted critics have raised the question of who has benefited from this agreement. We think both are its beneficiaries. But Pakistan is definitely the better gainer not because it has not done favour to India, but certainly because she has done a favour to herself.

India has climbed down indirectly. Krishna no more orchestrated the 26/11 culprit-chasing issue. He also put under wraps the more recent tantrum of Pakistani Home Minister making one of his loose accusations that RAW was funding the Pak Taliban and Baloch dissidents.

Pakistani establishment has been carrying heavy hate-India baggage and for a long time. This is particularly true of her army. There are no two opinions that with the evaporation of the core issue between the two countries, Pak Army’s supremacy will come to naught.

General Kayani’s nod to visa liberalization regime with India can have earned him secret wrath of non-state managers of Pakistani Army, namely Hafiz Saeed and the security establishment of that country. This is notwithstanding the fact that ‘non-state actors’ were godfathered by none other than the Army.

Pakistan is categorized a national security state. Those who are entrusted with the task of ensuring its security are Military Intelligence (MI), ISI and IB. The national security perception of these institutions is essentially India-centric. Their text book formula is that India is Pakistan’s “enemy by birth”. Therefore, in their perception, any sort of relationship with India is virtual security threat to her. Pakistan’s new generations are born, live and die with this psychological deformation.

What do the broad features of the visa regime liberalization suggest? The Indo-Pak visa liberalisation is contained in the following concessions made by Pakistan:

1) citizens of either country, above the age of 65, will be given a 45-day, single entry visa on arrival at the Attari/Wagha check-post;
2) specific visas will be issued to businessmen depending on their financial standing, one-year, for five cities, for up to four entries;
3) pilgrim tourism will be allowed if pilgrims apply at least 45 days before the commencement of their intended tour and will be issued a non-extendable, single entry visa for 15 days; individual tourist visa is still embargoed;
4) people visiting relatives or friends in the other country will be granted a visa for five specified cities for a period not exceeding six months;
5) a longer duration visitor visa for up to two years with multiple entries, to citizens above the age of 65, spouses of a national of the other country and children below 12 years of age accompanying parents;
6) group tourist visas may be issued to those travelling in groups of not less than 10, and not more than 50, by approved tour operators.

No clause in this agreement can be interpreted as violating security parameters of Pakistan. By and large, it is people-to-people interaction proposal which both countries feel has the potential to be viable precursor to reversing acrimonious relationship.

Saner elements in Pakistani civil society are eager that Pakistan’s hate-India psyche needs to be disbanded. Since in the matter of liberalization of visa regime Pakistani army seems to be on board, the right wing elements and more pragmatic politicians would like to give it teeth.

Anti-India zealots in that country suspect President Zardari of being soft to India. But they forget
that in Pakistani society the feeling that Pakistan has been
Perpetual loser by harbouring enmity with India is very widespread.  Mian Nawaz Sharief, a political heavy weight in Pakistan has gone to the length of saying that if he comes in power he would abolish visa between India and Pakistan. Not only that. He has gone one more step further and said that even the core issue between the two countries could wait for a solution till Pakistan recovered fully from economic crunch and political instability and power rested with the people in letter and in spirit.

At the root of changed thinking among liberals and pragmatists in Pakistan is that Pakistan should seek inspiration from the way Indian democracy has shown resilience of tackling sensitive political, economic and social issues. The concept of carving a Muslim State on the sub-continent does not necessarily mean the nascent state has to be on perpetual animosity with India.

But if regressive forces among the army and the jihadis of anti-India psychosis combine to defeat the designs of liberal forces, the balance may tilt in the favour of the former. It is difficult to imagine what will be the situation in Pakistan in the light of that alignment. One shudders to think.

The harsh reality, which even the security establishment of Pakistan is fully aware of and would not like to discuss in public, is that it has burnt all of its boats. Proxy war and economic onslaught were the last arrows in ISI’s quiver, and these have already been expended. The world is no more worried about how India handles Kashmir because it is fully convinced that Kashmir movement is Pakistan’s extended terrorist movement…

I think New Delhi has adopted sensible statesmanlike policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. India has once again shown her large heartedness and opened the way not only for Pakistan but for the entire South Asian community to begin a new era of cooperation, collaboration and development. Both foreign ministers have shown that given goodwill they have the capability of handling bilateral relations with wisdom, poise and dignity.

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