A liberal visa regime for Pakistani visitors to India
When a Pakistani with dual citizenship applies for an Indian visa, the application has to be on their Pakistani passport. Once submitted, the Indian embassy will forward it to Delhi. It can take months. Often, there is no response. Is this how we wish to treat people who once were fellow countrymen?
Why are we so nasty to Pakistanis who want to visit our country? The argument that they treat us no differently — which I should add is not my experience — is neither relevant nor does us credit. First, because India is proud of being the world’s largest democracy and a principled defender of human rights. If Pakistan were to claim the same, it would hardly be believed. But then we also need to live up to our self-image.
More importantly, should we allow our neighbour’s behaviour to set the standard for our own? Surely, we should buttress the assertion that we’re better by acting differently, if not contrarily to Islamabad?
The treatment of the brilliant Australian batsman Usman Khawaja is an illustration of what I call nastiness. In fact, it’s worse. It’s petty, spiteful and belittling of ourselves. It shows India in a poor light. But the worst part of it all is we did this damage to ourselves.
Born in Pakistan, Khawaja emigrated to Australia with his family when he was four. Today, he has dual nationality. He’s both a Pakistani and an Australian citizen. According to reports in Australian papers, when he applied for a visa to tour India with the Australian cricket team, it was not immediately granted. So long was the delay that the team arrived on February 1 without him. It was only after the Australian cricket administration intervened that Khawaja got his visa.
In India, few of us are aware of this and, possibly, even fewer worry about it. Not so in Australia. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Conn, one of the country’s best-known cricket commentators, was incandescent. The Bharatiya Janata Party, he said, sees “Khawaja not as one of Australia’s finest cricketers but as a Muslim born in Pakistan”. The truth is actually worse. This is not the first time Khawaja has had trouble getting an Indian visa. According to The Guardian, it also happened in 2011, when the Manmohan Singh government was in power. Clearly, this mean-hearted treatment of Pakistanis has become the standard practice of several Indian governments.
Now, let me explain what happens when a Pakistani with dual citizenship applies for an Indian visa. Even if the person is a resident of London, New York or Dubai, the application has to be on their Pakistani passport. Not the other one. Once submitted, the Indian embassy will forward the application to Delhi. There, it’s not the external affairs ministry which will decide, but the home ministry. And it can take months. Applicants are automatically told not to expect a response for three.
Often — I would venture in the majority of cases — there is no response. In such cases, no news is not good news. If, however, you’re lucky, it’s probably because someone pulled strings for you. But how many Pakistanis are in a position where that can be done for them? The result: Very few get permission to visit India.
Is this really how we wish to treat people who once — and not so long ago — were our fellow countrymen? More pointedly, is this how we’re going to win support for, leave aside justify, our claims to Akhand Bharat (Greater India)? Is this how a country that considers itself the premier power of the South Asian region and aspires to a seat at the international high table should conduct itself? I can’t believe the answer is yes to any of those questions.
No doubt we have problems with the Pakistan government — profound ones that stretch back decades. But the truth is that’s also true of the Pakistani people. In that case, shouldn’t we distinguish between them and their dreadful rulers? Or are we incapable of such simple subtlety?
The fact of the matter is Pakistanis may or may not be suffering by our denial of visas, but we as a nation — the Indian people and not just our governments — are being reflected in an unattractive light. For our sake, this must stop.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal