A welcome step forward, a long way to goThe Aman ki Asha "Milne Do" online petition addresses several areas that the governments have not touched - especially issues faced by divided families and cross-border spouses.
By Beena Sarwar
The new visa regime announced by India and Pakistan is a welcome step forward, and both the governments are to be sincerely congratulated for making this historic move. It has raised expectations and given new hope to the people of this region. But it is still just a first step. More are needed to bring down the walls of suspicion and hostility that have marked relations between the two countries.
The Aman ki Asha "Milne Do" online petition (www.change.org/milnedo) addresses several areas that the governments have not touched. Foremost among these is the pain of divided families and cross-border spouses. A woman who moves to live with her husband's family on the other side without giving up her original nationality has to renew her visa periodically. She cannot own property or open a bank account in the husband's country. If she gives up her first nationality, she has to go through the trauma of applying for a visa from the original country. The long-drawn out and tortuous visa process has denied many anguished daughters the right to be with her parents during their final illness or to attend the last rites of their loved ones.
It is a welcome move that the elderly over 65 years old and children under 12 will now be exempted from police reporting. This is something that should be an exception rather than the rule for most visitors.
Senior citizens will also now finally get visa-on-arrival (something that was agreed upon some time back but never implemented). However, this will only apply to those who cross Wagah/Attari border. But why not at all entry ports and for all modes of transport?
In a truly groundbreaking move, tourist visas have been allowed for the first time -- but only for groups of ten or more, through an approved tour operator.
Students may avail of this facility but may not enrol in educational institutes for courses of study. One of the Milne Do petition demands is to make student visas freely available.
Frustratingly, most Indians and Pakistanis will still only be allowed to visit a limited number of cities rather than the whole country. Cell-phone roaming is still banned, there is no word on the demand to open consulates in other cities like Mumbai and Karachi, and both countries still allow only two journalists from the other side to be posted in the capital cities, restricted from travelling elsewhere.
The stringent visa requirements imposed by India, including the horrendously bureaucratic 'sponsorship certificate' remain in place. So does India's discriminatory requirement that Pakistanis holding dual nationality must use their Pakistani passports when applying for a visa. This denies them consular access from the adopted country in case something happens. And if they want to
travel on the adopted country's passport, they must formally renounce their
Pakistani nationality - a painful and unfair requirement.
Certainly, Indians and Pakistanis applying for visas for 'first world' destinations in Britain, U.S.A, or the European Union also have to jump through hoops to obtain visas, supplying a long list of documents, providing finger prints etc. But once we've been cleared, we can get multiple-entry visas that are valid for up to ten years and that allow access to the entire country, not just a few cities.
Indians and Pakistanis find each other's visa restrictions all the more abominable because of the affinity the people share, through common cultures, languages, religions, histories and families. Unlike with other 'enemy' countries, despite the years of conditioning, there is more curiosity and
fascination with each other than hostility and feelings of enmity.
We are not asking for the borders to be erased. We just want them to be easy to cross. We don't want to be restricted to group tours and specific cities. We don't want to go for police reporting on arrival and departure and be restricted to entry and exit from specified points, using the same mode of transport each way. We want to be able to drive across, walk across, and cycle across the border and to change our itineraries if we so desire. We want to visit not just friends and families but historic and touristic sites.
One day, this dream will be a reality. And by signing the historic relaxed visa regime on September 8, 2012, our governments have taken a good first step. But let's applaud it for what it is - just a first step.
The writer is Editor, Aman ki Asha
New visa categories
1. Business Type 1 (Income 0.5Mn PKR / Turnover 3Mn PKR)
2. Business Type 2 (Income 5Mn PKR / Turnover 30Mn PKR)
Exempt from Police Reporting
3. On Arrival (Senior Citizen only)
At Wagah/Attari Border only
4. Visitor 1 (General)
5. Visitor 2 (Senior Citizen, children, cross border spouses)
Senior Citizens (65+ years) and children under 12 exempt from police reporting.
7. Group Tour
9. Diplomatic / Non Diplomatic (Embassy staff)
Compiled by Bhatta Som
Pakistan visa requirements for Indian nationals - guidelines and required documents at this link: http://bit.ly/Pakistanvisa India visa requirements India accepts only online visa applications.
Requirements for Pakistani nationals at this link: http://bit.ly/Indiavisa
Click on relevant category to obtain list of required documents. General visitors still require a sponsorship certificate.
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