Destructive comments to the media by Pakistan’s interior minister Mr A Rehman Malik on various sensitive issues in India Pakistan relations particularly related to Mumbai 26/11 terror attack soured what could have been a major event in expanding Indo Pakistan relations, a liberalized Visa Agreement. Despite this Shri Sushilkumar Shinde, Home Minister of India and Mr. A. Rehman Malik, Pakistan Interior Minister jointly operationalized the new Visa Agreement between India and Pakistan on 14th December, 2012 at New Delhi. However, the Visa-on-Arrival will come into effect from 15th January, 2013 and the Group Tourist Visa from 15th March, 2013. A Circular to this effect was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs to all the Indian Missions, State Governments/ Union Territories, Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRROs), FROs and all concerned. A liberalized visa regime will greatly facilitate travel and business though its full scale implementation may take some time.
Key features of the new Visa Agreement are visit to five places for a tourist has been permitted with a two year time limit for persons above 65 years of age and national of one country married to national of the other country. Visa on Arrival can be granted at Attari/Wagah check-post to persons of more than 65 years of age for 45 days with single entry (effective from 15th January, 2013). Exemption from Police Reporting for Business visa granted to businessmen with an annual income above Pak Rs. 5 million or equivalent or annual turnover above Pak Rs. 30 million or equivalent has been granted. Group Tourist Visa for 30 days may be issued for travel in groups, with not less than 10 members and not more than 50 members in each group, organized by approved tour operators/travel agents (effective from 15th March, 2013). Entry and exit is now possible from different designated Immigration Check Posts.
During the visit of Pak Interior Minister, Indian and Pakistan delegations also held a bilateral meeting on issues that included counter terrorism border management, fake Indian Currency Notes and cooperation among security and investigation agencies. the official delegation accompanying the Pakistan Interior Minister included Members from Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Federal Administration and High Commission of Pakistan in India.
Earlier Mr Rehman Malik created a number of gaffe’s such as refusal to take steps against Lashkar patron Hafiz Saeed without any “solid evidence.” “There is a difference between information and evidence. If I am given hard evidence now... before I leave for Pakistan, I will order his (Saeed) arrest,” he said. Equating 26/11 a terrorist attack with Babri Masjid incident which was a communal one, Malik further sullied the atmosphere,
Seeing the mood media reports indicated that Asif Ibrahim, director-designate of the Intelligence Bureau took the lead to ask Pakistan to act against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Saeed in the delegation level talks. “The Pakistani side was told that it needs to walk the talk as almost all its earlier promises have remained unfulfilled so far,” a source was quoted by the media. “We have evidence against Hafiz Saeed. He motivated the 26/11 attackers. Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal has also spoken about Saeed’s role. The Pakistani side was informed about all that,” he added. However Rehman on a destructive mission stated in a media interaction that Abu Jundal could be an Indian agent.
Reportedly National security advisor Shivshankar Menon was also forthright in indicating Indian position on terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also gave a bland signal on visit to Pakistan. “He could not elicit a commitment from Singh on an early visit to Pakistan as the Indian side has repeatedly said the visit has to be purposeful,” sources were quoted by the media. The opposition BJP lambasted the government for the soft approach taken to the visit which seems to have been an unmitigated disaster. Thus apart from signing of the visa accord which may also take some time to implement there has been more bad blood created due to his various utterances on many issues right from the beginning.
The Revised Visa Agreement should have been a new chapter in Indo Pakistan relations as this would ensure that the opportunities for interaction particularly people to people are expanded. While the Indo Pakistan dialogues have considerably expanded and a number of avenues particularly trade have opened up there are concerns that these have not moved forward in actually generating greater volume of trade and benefiting the economies of the two countries. A very strict visa regime has been identified as one of the key factors that has deterred actualization of this relationship as there are practical difficulties being faced by business people in particular in traveling to India. Now that the liberalized visa regime will be put into place it is anticipated that this will remove the road blocks to practical forward movement in the process of expansion of a close and developing relationship between the two countries.
The forked language used by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mr Rehman Malik on terrorism perpetrated by that country and particularly the Mumbai attack and linking the same with other incidents such as demolition of the Babri Masjid which was not a terrorist incident per se indicated the limits of Indo Pakistan rapprochement that could take place in the future. The Interior Minister of Pakistan is obviously operating within the limits of political acceptance of the role of that country in perpetrating violence in India and cannot be seen to be openly condemning the same as was possibly expected by Indian observers and analysts. The Indian side as well has its own limitations given that unless there is progress on the Mumbai terror attacks trials in Pakistan justice would not be seen to have been done restraining the political initiatives that can be taken towards a full fledged rapprochement. Thus visa liberalization could be seen as one phase of the process which will build up people to people relationship.
Known for his penchant to put his foot in the mouth so to say in his own country, Mr Malik had been avoided by the previous Indian Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram who was wary of his antics. While the present Indian Minister Mr S K Shinde is reasonable he was not well prepared to receive comments Mr Malik has made on issues which are highly sensitive in the relations between the two countries. Thus the loud mouthed approach of Mr Malik may have led to loss of whatever good will built through signing of the visa agreement. This was evident when the Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh clearly indicated that he would not visit Pakistan till there was progress in bringing the 26/11 culprits in that country to book. Malik was no doubt on a destructive mission to please the hard line lobby in Pakistan, India will now remain more wary in interacting with the likes of Pakistan’s interior minister in the future.