Liberalise all visas

Published: February 19, 2012

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma (L) and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim (R) witness a signing agreement ceremony between Pakistan and India in Islamabad on February 15, 2012. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Progress in the peace process between Pakistan and India is measured in inches, not yards. By that metric, the decision by the two countries to move to a more liberal visa regime should be seen as a considerable step forward. The agreement will make it easier for businessmen to move across the border and will also grant banks from Pakistan and India permission to operate in each other’s countries. The most immediate impact of this move will be an increase in bilateral trade, currently an anaemic three billion dollars a year. At a meeting last year, the trade ministers of the two countries had announced their intentions to, at least, double trade. Simplifying the cumbersome visa process for businessman shows that both countries were not simply indulging in cheap rhetoric but have realised the mutual benefits of cross-border trade.

As is always the case with Pakistan-India agreements, however, there is a lot more that can and should have been done. If the ultimate aim is lasting peace and both the PPP and Congress governments have demonstrated their dovish instincts in the recent past, then visa reforms should have been more wide-ranging. There is no remedy better than people-to-people contacts to remove mutual suspicion and hatred between Pakistanis and Indians. Making it easier for artists and sportsmen to travel to each other’s countries would have generated much goodwill and held very little political risk. Indeed, with Pakistani cricketers shut out yet again from the IPL cricket auction, this would have been an opportune moment to announce a resumption of sporting ties.

Still, the more closely intertwined the two countries become through trade, the harder it is to resort to violence as a solution to political problems. Thus, the decision by Pakistan to grant India Most-Favoured Nation trading status and to gradually remove the list of goods that can’t be imported from India will end up being very consequential in the peace process. As the two countries come to rely on each other for prosperity, hawks will find it harder to gin up anger over every small incident. If the ultimate goal is sustainable peace, then Pakistan and India just made a substantial stride towards achieving just that.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • whoever
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:10PM

    Frankly speaking giving visa to cricketers and actors don’t help us any more . Visa to scientists ,doctors ,engineers and business men are need of hour .Pak can fulfill our vacancies in colleges and universities and R&D organizations . Though they don’t produce good teachers and lectures like developed countries , but I am sure there must be some talented students and can be tapped.

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  • Mirza
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:04AM

    I used to go to India frequently and enjoyed all my visits. I have close relatives and friends there. However, since the Indian govt started taking several months for the visa and gave me the feeling that they do not want my tourism dollars, I have not been there. Instead I go to countries like Malaysia where I feel welcomed and home. I am not going to visit a country where I don’t feel like wanted. It is a shame that a few young terrorists have made it difficult for grownups and families to visit their own relatives in a neighboring country. Sad to say that the terrorists have won and they have increased the walls between the two countries. My best advice to both countries is to grant visas to all except the high profile people that fit the mold of terrorists.

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  • Salahuddin
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Mirza ji, We’ll all go ji, today or tomorrow as the artificial walls built by forces of hatred are not going to stand the human’s natural love for peace.

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  • Wonderful
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:26AM

    ET Editorial: You suggest that cricket takes place between Pakistan and India to further generate goodwill. YOU yourself have placed a ban on Indian sports in your columns and yet talk of goodwill. Grow up before making an editorial.

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:03PM

    @Salahuddin: ” … Mirza ji, We’ll all go ji, today or tomorrow as the artificial walls built by forces of hatred are not going to stand the human’s natural love for peace. …. “

    You will not find Hindus questioning the two nation theory.

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  • AS
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:21PM

    Mr Mirza

    You are right in sayign that terrorists have won but it needs to be understood what has Pakistan govt and its public done to reverse the trend. There is still a lot of support for people with extremist mindset in pakistan society and it could be gauged by the ability of these extremisst groups to hold open meetings. Yes indians would love to welcome Pakistanis but the question is would this openness ber misused by Pakistan as had been doen in the past.

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  • G. Din
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:47PM

    @Mirza:
    “I am not going to visit a country where I don’t feel like wanted.”
    Earlier, you said:”I used to go to India frequently and enjoyed all my visits.” I presume if you enjoyed your visits then and since feeling wanted is important to you, you must have felt wanted then. Then, what could have changed for you to decide that you are not now going to visit our country. We Indians take ages to change which indicates our contribution to your disillusionment was probably not a factor. It is, of course, your decision though we will perhaps miss you!Recommend

  • Mirza
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:00PM

    @G. Din: I meant to say that I love to go there and enjoy. However, if I do not get visa then I feel that I am not wanted there. It is not the people of South Asia but the govt policy that makes me sad and gives the impression that the terrorists have won. I simply feel hurt and frustrated by this situation. My contacts and loved ones are not going to live for ever. I am sorry if I hurt some feelings.
    “How people find time to hate when life is too short to love”.
    Thanks and regards,
    Mirza

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  • major-ji
    Feb 20, 2012 - 8:21PM

    Mirza-Ji To some extent you are correct that terrorist won and peace loving failed. But to me it speaks incompetency of both the governments. Do not blame only India. Same reciprocal stems from Pakistan. Indians also have to rub their noses to get Pakistani visa. Incompetent security agencies of both the countries cause problems for normal people. Those who have to do something they do it as any terrorist act does not require any visa. The biggest problem is who will understand this argument. Every once likes the easy way. Like on the eve of firing by two person riding on motor bike results in banning double riding on motorbike. So any untoward incident causes the easy way stop issuing visa.

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  • You Said It
    Feb 21, 2012 - 5:52AM

    @Mirza:
    Which government’s policies are you referring to? It is Pakistan government’s policy of providing support to extremist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. It is Pakistan’s security establishment that has actively promotes an anti-India mindset. While your loved ones won’t live forever, there should be no surprise that India finds your regret to be of little consolation or consequence given the risk to the life and security of her citizens.

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  • harkol
    Feb 21, 2012 - 7:26PM

    I am all of good people to people contacts and easy travel between countries. But, when we say ‘liberalize’ how do we ensure the famous Non-State Actors of Pakistan from pushing their cronies to conduct their version of Jihad?

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