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Relaxing visa regime

With Indo-Pak peace under process, a liberal visa regime will help in promoting better people-to people relations.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2006 19:50 IST

Nearly 3000 Sikh devotees from across India left for Pakistan to participate in the 400th martyrdom anniversary of their religious leader.

But with a lament in heart.

As Avtar Singh, a devotee, puts it: "There is great friendship between our two nations, but we lament that we did not get as many visas as we had applied for".

Apart from the "fortunate 3000", there were probably a thousand others who failed to cross the border because of Pakistan's stringent visa rules.

The Pakistan government had allowed 5,000 visas to the Sikh community this year, but for those unlucky few who couldn't make it, it got no cheer.

Most of them maintained that both the governments should work towards opening the Kirtarpur route to allow them access to Pakistan from Narowal.

But prior to exploring new routes and beginning bus and train services, both the governments have to work towards a relaxed visa regime.

As Pakistan's leading paper Daily Times says: "Unless the decision to grant enough visas to fill the buses plying between Lahore and New Delhi is taken, the road route will look more and more like a useless pantomime".

And interestingly, most of these buses have become a financial burden.

According to available statistics, only three people travelled in five buses, which left for Amritsar from May to June 7 this year.

Out of these five buses, three buses left for Amritsar with no passenger and the other two carried just three passengers, a report in the Gulfnews.com said.

Moreover, with peace under process, a liberal visa regime will only help in promoting better people-to people relations and enhancing bilateral ties.

"Every country has the right to verify the bona fides of a foreigner applying for a visa but it is important to note that the process, in a friendlier atmosphere, does not begin with suspecting the foreigner applying for a visa," says a 2005 report in Daily Times.

"The situation on the ground is that visas are being refused arbitrarily because of a visa officer's personal opinion or because government policy is aimed at restricting the flow of people," the paper adds.

As for India, it has been issuing over 10,000 visas to Pakistanis every month and if officials are to be believed, the two sides are working for further softening of the visa regime.