A Triple Hand-shake Diplo­macy

Southasia - - The last stop - By Anees Jil­lani

Iam a fan of Hina Rab­bani Khar and re­gard her as one of the few com­pe­tent min­is­ters in the cur­rent fed­eral cab­i­net. How­ever, it is get­ting in­creas­ingly bor­ing to see pho­to­graphs of her shak­ing hands with the In­dian ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter, month af­ter month. These meet­ings be­tween the for­eign min­is­ters need to achieve some­thing other than mere photo op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The Septem­ber 2012, S.M Kr­ishna’s visit to Is­lam­abad was no dif­fer­ent. He held talks dis­cussing God knows what as there was lit­tle to show at the end of the day. The two for­eign min­is­ters then ad­dressed a press con­fer­ence in which they re­it­er­ated their usual stances, Hina em­pha­siz­ing to “bury the past and move for­ward” and Kr­ishna in­sist­ing that we can­not move for­ward un­less “Mum­bai ter­ror­ists are con­victed by the Pak­istani courts.” Jour­nal­ists were al­lowed to ask a to­tal of only four ques­tions, two from each side.

Then on Septem­ber 8, our British In­te­rior Min­is­ter, Rehman Ma­lik signed a new visa agree­ment with S.M Kr­ishna. To be­gin with, this was an odd cou­ple as one rep­re­sented the In­te­rior Min­istry of Pak­istan while the other, In­dia’s Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­istry. Se­condly, this visa ac­cord was ready to be signed by the in­te­rior sec­re­taries in May and then the for­eign sec­re­taries of the two coun­tries in July 2012 in New Delhi. Rehman Ma­lik how­ever in­sisted that he should sign it on Pak­istan’s be­half. Min­is­ters are not au­tho­rized un­der the Rules of Busi­ness of Pak­istan to sign agree­ments and only sec­re­taries can do so. In other words, the ac­cord signed by the two gentle­men prob­a­bly only con­veys the in­ten­tion of the two states. The Ac­cord was not shared with the me­dia.

Un­der the Ac­cord, Pak­istan and In­dia agreed to is­sue sin­gle en­try visa-on-ar­rival (valid for 45 days) to se­nior cit­i­zens (65 years and above) and to chil­dren be­low 12 years at the Wa­gah - At­tari bor­der. It is be­yond com­pre­hen­sion as to how an un­der-12 child can travel on his own, with­out an adult ac­com­pa­ny­ing him.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a new cat­e­gory of tourist visa for a group of more than ten but less than 50 per­sons is in­tro­duced. Such a visa, how­ever, can only be is­sued when the tourist trip is spon­sored by a gov­ern­ment ap­proved tour op­er­a­tor. We all know what that means. Rel­a­tives and friends will be given the tour op­er­a­tor­ship li­censes on both sides and ex­change of money un­der the ta­ble is more than likely. The tourists will not be ex­empted from po­lice re­port­ing.

The busi­ness­men are luck­ier which goes to show In­dia’s in­ter­est in forg­ing im­proved trade re­la­tions. They can be is­sued mul­ti­ple en­try (max­i­mum four) visas valid for a pe­riod of one year and cov­er­ing five cities if they can show that their an­nual in­come is more than Rs 500,000 or their an­nual turnover is more than Rs three mil­lion. Busi­ness­men with an an­nual in­come of Rs five mil­lion or an an­nual turnover of Rs 30 mil­lion can get the same visa for ten cities and will also be ex­empted from po­lice re­port­ing.

For or­di­nary folks like us, the only good news may be that the max­i­mum city limit has been in­creased from three to five cities; and the visa du­ra­tion has been in­creased from three to five months. How­ever, one can­not live for more than three months on this visa at any one time (one must be re­ally sick of his coun­try or fam­ily and free to be liv­ing for three months in an­other coun­try).

The Ac­cord can hardly be re­garded as a break­through or as ush­er­ing an era of lib­er­al­ized visa regime. Some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing and so it must be wel­comed but even this Ac­cord has yet to be ap­proved by the re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments and thus yet to come into op­er­a­tion. Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

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