A Triple Hand-shake Diplomacy
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.