By Muhammad Abd al-Hameed
At a recent meeting held in New Delhi the interior secretaries of India and Pakistan decided to form a group to recommend simplification of visa procedures.
This is a great opportunity for the advocates of better people-to-people relations with India to improve relations between both countries. The group should be urged to suggest maximum relaxation in visas in both countries.
I suggest the following minimum recommendations:
a) The foreign ministers of both countries signed an agreement during their meeting in Islamabad in 2004, providing that citizens over 65 years would not require visa to visit the other country. The interior ministries of both countries only have to issue notifications for the implementation of the agreement. Subsequently, the age limit for visa-free travel may be reduced annually by two years, ultimately to 50 years.
b) As there is no agreement on opening consulates, each country may post visa officers in cities with substantial number of applicants. In Pakistan, the cities may include Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore, while Indian cities may be at least Amritsar, Jalandhar, Lucknow, Bombay and Hyderabad. Visa officers will scrutinise applications, interview applicants and refer cases to their embassy whenever necessary.
c) Police reporting should be abolished. The British introduced this humiliating process in South Asia to monitor visitors from enemy states (Russia, Germany, Japan, etc.). Until better sense prevails to abolish the procedure, it may be made easier by requiring reporting on arrival and departure only at police posts at airports, railway stations and main bus stands. A visitor may be given a card, similar to the immigration card given to passengers in planes before arrival at an international airport. He may hand over the filled-in card to the police post and move on.
After the proposed steps have been taken, both countries may introduce further relaxations.
The writer is author of "Ghurbat kaise mit sakti hai" (Classic, Lahore)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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