Visa restrictions: Who draws lines around countries?

Published: June 6, 2012

A young Pakistani student at ILM school, respectfully hoisting the Indian national flag. PHOTO: Citizens Archive

The last few months have been full of optimism for Indians and Pakistanis who are eager to step across the border and experience what lies on the other side. The fact that both countries have been working towards a liberal visa regime  to enable people-to-people contact is a cause for celebration but there is bound to be anxiety until the time an official deal is signed.

The recent news about a last-minute snag, leading to a postponement in this process after a meeting between Pakistan’s former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, and India’s Home Secretary, R K Singh, comes across as a dampener to the hopes of many who were jubilant about the possibility of tourist visas being issued soon.

I feel that we should not look at this as a failure but an obstacle to be overcome. This is a time for advocates of peace and friendship to stand together in solidarity rather than sulk or be cynical. I know it is a difficult thing to do but we must not despair yet.

As we wait for top officials in both countries to seal the deal, it might be a good idea to continue emphasising the need for interaction between the people of both nations and its potential in bridging the divides between those who have had little opportunity to interact with the ‘other side’ and are forced to believe borrowed images and ideas.

While the former interior minister (now advisor to the prime minister) and the home secretary were busy with discussions in Islamabad, another exchange was taking place in Mumbai. The Press Club of Mumbai received a 14-member delegation of journalists from Karachi who came down for a week-long visit.

I went over to meet them and ended up spending a whole evening with four of them. I avoid mentioning names in order to protect their privacy but would like to share a glimpse of the wonderful time we had together.

They were keen on shopping for jewellery for their spouses, sisters, daughters and other relatives, so we walked up to the famous Zaveri Bazaar. After buying some silver jewellery from a shop where I discovered, my hitherto, unexplored talent for bargaining, we explored out many stores and eventually landed at one they tremendously loved. What followed is something that I have never seen before. I was dazed at the amount of imitation jewellery they bought. I have never seen anyone shop for jewellery with the zeal I reserve for buying books at second-hand sales!

The rest of the evening was also packed with fun.

Bandra’s Linking Road reminded them of Liberty Market and Gulberg in Lahore. The seafront at Juhu beach made they exclaim,

This is so much like Karachi!

After dipping our feet in the sea, enjoying the cool breeze and posing for pictures, we had a delicious meal at the Mahesh Lunch Home, a restaurant famous for its seafood. It was a bit too late, so we had to round off our night-out with paan and goodbyes.

Regardless of whether we will stay in touch or not, it was indeed a special evening and I hope this was one of many more to come.

Speaking of people-to-people contact, I recall my first visit to Lahore in February 2012 as part of a delegation from Mumbai and Delhi comprising students and teachers from four different schools. When asked how he’d describe his experience of Pakistan to people who haven’t been there, Mahesh Sakhalkar, a student of Shishuvan School in Mumbai, who was then a ninth-grader, said:

I would tell those people to forget all that they have read, heard or seen on TV because it’s all nonsense. Pakistan is just like India and the people there are very friendly. It is a great place to be in.

What Mahesh said came from just spending five days in Lahore, visiting two schools and many historical monuments, interacting with children of his own age from the other side of the border, and from standing up for the national anthem of a country that many of his fellow Indians know little about, though it is just next door.

When asked if the experience could have been better, he said,

Yes, if we had visited more schools, roamed around more and shopped a little more. It would have been better if we had stayed a few more days.

I hope many other children from India are fortunate enough to experience this exchange and I wish the same for children from Pakistan as well.

This will happen soon, Inshallah, when getting a visa becomes a little easier.

Read more by Chintan here, or follow him on Twitter @chintan_connect

Chintan Modi

Chintan Modi

An independent educator, writer and researcher based in Mumbai, India. He recently visited Pakistan to participate in a panel discussion on peace education at the Children’s Literature Festival in Lahore. He tweets as @chintan_connect (twitter.com/chintan_connect)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali tanoli

    Just like India or it was india there is no diffrence except meat dishes…..Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    @chintan modi,

    Did u ask them who was HAFEEZ, KASAB, etc.,
    WHO SENT KASAB etc.,

    OR about Dawood pakistan born american….

    where they still happy with you…..

    we should not show fake trusts.
    it is injurious not only to you but to others around you.Recommend

  • Sinclair (for BlackJack)

    ET messed up and deleted old comments on this. Here’s BlackJack’s apt comment on this article.
    .
    BlackJack:

    “People-to-people contact is an important way to make us appear more human to each other, and I certainly welcome exchanges at student level – these are experiences that will stay with those kids for the rest of their lives and color the way they see their neighbors. I think Indians are more likely to stereotype Pakistanis than the other way around because (leaving aside our painful common history) the news that emerges from that country is almost uniformly negative; Pakistanis, on the other hand, are more likely to stereotype Indian inter-faith relationships; to them, Indian muslims are oppressed and poor individuals that have been kept outside the mainstream and are subjected to periodic pogroms – a disguised schadenfreude at having made the right choice. While all Pakistanis are not terrorists, one cannot argue that they are a nation that still aid and abet extremists with the stated objective of wreaking havoc and ultimately destroying the Indian state. At the same time, we have never heard of any Indian visiting Pakistan and not being made to feel welcome – everyone who has been there has only affection for the average Pak citizen. Hopefully increased contact and greater access to unbiased information will help next generation will grow up without the image of the wily Hindu baniya across the border rubbing his hands in anticipation of gobbling up Pakistan.”Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    @amoghavarsha.ii:
    People like you are on both sides.”A” category Pessimists & hopeless, but fortunately you are the minority.
    Chintan Modi saw the best in us and recognized its the same as he had at home. Hats off and respect to the author and BTW it was the Moron named Sir Stafford Cripps who drew line of contention. Recommend

  • tyu

    @Sinclair – how do you have blackjack’s comment ? did you like copy it or what ? Recommend

  • Sinclair

    @tyu

    I had left open the tab for a long time and forgot about it. So, just copied from the old version and pasted it here.Recommend

  • Chintan Girish Modi

    Thanks, Fahad :)Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Stop being so emotional and think practically.

    When the rest of the World is restricting Pakistanis from coming to their soil, is it really wise for India to have a liberal visa regime with them?

    Fine we were one country not too long ago, have a lot of cultural similarities. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Pakistan is the Terrorist epicenter of the World and there is a higher chance of Terrorists sneaking into India from Pakistan than any other country and there have been many instances where this has proven to be true.

    Business visa? Yes, Tourist one? Ideally no.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Friendship with mutual respect will be a long journey but it must start somewhere, sometime.Recommend

  • TalkSensePlease

    “Business visa? yes. Tourist visa? Ideally no”
    How very convenient sir!
    There are many in both countries who’d want to go on vacations and find no better alternative than a low-budget road or rail trip to a neighboring country. Plus, children/grandchildren of migrants grew up hearing their parents/grandparents tell countless stories about their country of origin, and would really want to see for themselves what the other country is really like. Technically, I don’t see any harm in it!Recommend

  • Hukum Singh

    @Ali tanoli:
    Except for beef, I eat all kinds of meat including pork and in Rajasthan the non-veg dishes are mostly Mughlai style. It is just a stereotype that Hindus don’t eat meat. My rough survey of Rajasthan, which is mostly conservative Hindu, maybe 30% Hindus, Brahmin, Jain-Bania and religious Hindus are kattar shakahari or vegetarian. The rest 70% else eat some kind of meat. These days young Brahman and Bania’s also eat meat even though they might say they don’t to their families.Recommend

  • Hukum Singh

    Author said -”This will happen soon, Inshallah, when getting a visa becomes a little easier.”

    Indians go to Pakistan and start saying “Insha-Allah”

    Never seen a Pakistani, even Wasim Akram, who makes lot of money doing commentary in India, say “Bhagwan ki Kirpa se” OR “Jai Ramji Ki” OR “Har-Har-Mahadev”

    My question to Chintan – Why is that?Recommend

  • Cynical

    @Fahad Raza

    I think it was Cyril Radcliffe, not Staffrd Cripps.Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma

    @Parvez: ” … Friendship with mutual respect will be a long journey but it must start somewhere, sometime. … ”

    How about you start by saying “Your religion is as good as mine” ?Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    @Chintan Girish Modi:
    Most Welcome.Recommend

  • Sane

    Reading the comments of hate mongers from India, I wonder as why not they tell us about Bal Thakray, Col Prohat, Narindra Modi. Such comments totally destroy a good attempt to create harmony among people of Pakistan and India.
    Recommend

  • Gupt Rogue

    Chintan, if you are a true ambassador of world peace, you dont you try to build bridges with china, a more economcally important neighbor? What uterior motives do you have that you are willing to risk the lives of indian citizens by advocating unrestricted infiltration from our hindu-hostile neighbor?Recommend

  • Chintan Girish Modi

    @Hukum Singh: I’m surprised that you think of Inshallah as a Pakistani expression. A large number of Indians too use this word, and not just people who practise Islam or people who speak Urdu. Inshallah is a beautiful word, and it’s available to everyone.Recommend

  • Chintan Girish Modi

    @Parvez: I’m glad you say, “Friendship with mutual respect will be a long journey but it must start somewhere, sometime.” We need all the hope and goodwill we can muster to make things peaceful.Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    @Fahad,
    It is very very easy to say u trust others, but very difficult to be SURE THAT TRUST is RIGHT. There are innumerable proofs on the contrary.
    btw, I am not what u might be thinking a HAWK.
    if my questions make u thing that way, then majority common people in India will be that.
    Let MODI himself talk to Indians and see what is the response.
    Indian students asked OBAMA what actions he was taking agains pakistan for there omissions and commissions when he was in India…..
    The first response u get when we speak about Hafeez etc., is they talk about Thackrey/modi etc.,… they don’t have simple IQ to know that they never asked there followers to cross border and kill people….

    Rest what you or modi think is useless…..as long as there is a threat of terror from across the border.
    many Indians started reading PAK news papers only to know what u people are like…after Mumbai attack and we don’t see it good….most citizens of the world too don’t see it good…Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @Sane: Let your concerned ministries give an iota of evidence to the Indian Authorities for Bal Thakrey’s involvement in any of the miscreant activities in Pakistan.

    Col Purohit (thats how you spell it): is currently behind bars for the past few years and a trail is in process. Can you say the same for Hafiz Saeed or his ilk?

    Narendra Modi (NaMo) isnt involved in any anti Pakistan activities – Not one percent; prove that and we promise you and the world a brilliant trial against him in court. Hindsight, you may be referring to the Gujrat Riots as Pakistani’s want to be the ‘thekedars’ of Muslims across the world. Who burnt the train? FIRST and FOREMOST answer that!

    emphasized text“Such comments totally destroy a good attempt to create harmony among people of Pakistan and India” Typical insanity in so called Sane minds is what Pakistan has been reduced to. Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    @ Chintan,
    Frankly what is your advice to your pakistani friends??????
    is there any???
    My Advice to them is Love your country more than your religion,
    Can u say that on there face?Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad

    @Anoop
    No terrorist has ever sneaked into India after obtaining visas. Your basic premise is wrong. and thank God you didn’t bring Jinnah or Islam into it.Recommend

  • Ali tanoli

    @Hukum Singh
    I like your bold comment man and i love Jaswant singh sahab for his truthfull book written Rajesthan is no differnt than sindh and i love mai bhagi songs which is thary lang close to rajesthani i wish we never had a migration on both sight……. my grand parents also nigrated forcefully from Ambala state of punjab area….Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk p r sharma

    Hate comes back in the same form to hater.. If you preach love and peace you are certainly get it back duly multiplied. It is universally applicable to individual as well as countries.
    choice is yours ? Recommend

  • Sane

    @BRUISED INDIAN
    Who burnt the train? FIRST and FOREMOST answer that!
    You know it. But, you will never reveal about your people involved in burning Muslims in Samjhota Express.
    Anyways, your language and tone is enough to prove hatred you have with Pakistan and Muslims. However, every Muslim is a brother of other Muslims.

    I am also thankful to you and others for creating an image about you, which I wanted to tell others. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Sinclair:
    Just noticed – very kind of you. Many thanks.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    @amoghavarsha.ii:
    If India is a secular country why is it concerned about any other country’s religion. if it does..then why friends with Israel who slaughters Palestinians and was created based on religion just as Pakistan. Double standards why..Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Amoghvarsha

    Hukum Singh, before you complain about inshallah, you should know that – although I am very comfortable with it – so many Pakistanis have taken up saying Jai Seeri Ram, Namaste,and SutSiri Akal. We even hear TV anchors use those terms!!

    Such a shame you expect Pakistanis to be so liberal while being such fanatics.

    Chinatan Modi, thank you for being so honest and intelligent.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    @Usman Ahmad:

    “No terrorist has ever sneaked into India after obtaining visas.”

    Ever heard of David Headley, formerly known as Dawood Gilani? Yes, he was a US citizen, but is accussed of collaborating with LeT based in Pakistan.

    Or, ever heard of Faisal Shahzad, a former Pakistani national, who later went on to attempt to blow up Times Square?

    Both the men above had traveled using legal means. Both were Terrorists. Your assertion that there is no chance of Terrorists sneaking in via liberal visa regimes falls flat.

    We all know that if you have contacts you can get visa to India easily. Don’t you think a Terrorist would see obvious benefits in this?Recommend

  • Gupt Rogue

    Chintan– you are completely off the mark; Inshallah is a loaded word, charged with connotations of arab Racial bigotry and intolerance of islamist hegemons. Is your own linguistic culture so impoverished that you have to use an imperialist arab expression?Recommend

  • http://syedowais.blogspot.com/ Syed Owais Mukhtar

    Maybe this would help in better understanding the India and Pakistan relationship:

    http://syedowais.blogspot.com/2012/05/aman-ka-tamasha.html

    This is democracy and in democracy you should accept what the people demand, not what you want to impose on people and make a mindset through brainwashing session… This is a message to the politicians, parties, media as well…Recommend

  • tilopa

    a very comical article
    the fact is we will be risking security of India by letting pakistani nationals come into this country
    headley used visa to enter this countryRecommend

  • Parvez

    @Arijit Sharma: Good friend, I used the words ‘mutual respect’ as an all embracing phrase.
    I have no inhibition in saying what you ask, because it is what I believe.Recommend

  • Cynical

    @Sane

    ‘However, every Muslim is a brother of other Muslims.’

    And that ‘OTHER’ includes OBL, Asad of Syria, Taliban and those British Pakistani men who were grooming(!) British white teenage girls.
    And,by the way, the world is a little tired of the cliche ‘they are not true Muslims’. Recommend

  • Child sexual abuse is real

    @Usman Ahmad:
    Have you heard about Dawood Gilani (father Pakistani, Mother White American? Dawood Gilan helped ISI in Bombay attacks. He came on a business Visafrom USA. Thousands of Pakistanis who came to watch Cricket matches in India, never went back. Recommend

  • Surya

    @Sane:
    All muslims should be able to travel to each other countries (alteast muslim countries)..i live in Singapore and all the food shops (Prata is very famous) run by indian muslims are called “Indian Muslim Food”..Even Bangladeshis call themselves as “Bangla”..
    your kind of thinking is the root cause of all miseries that Pakistan facing today.Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @Sane: Hahahaha! Epic man, just typically epic! You’re so full of stereotype that you cant see beyond the “made in madrassa” blinders affixed on youe eyes blurring your mental vision!

    Read Cynical and Surya’s response to you… need I say more? Time for a facepalm?! My friend. Recommend

  • Chintan Girish Modi

    Voices of peace who are reading this, make your presence felt. It’s much needed.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @tilopa:”headley used visa to enter this country”

    This is an age of outsourcing.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Hmm surprised at all the hate mongering Indians (and Pakistanis) present here. I usually see a more open minded approach, but that seems to be lacking here. Anyways, very refreshing and enlightened piece written by you, Chintan Modi. I wholeheartedly agree and hope to see more people on both sides of the fence see things in this light. Future’s coming, one way or another and we will always be neighbors; choice is ours as to what we make of it. Cheers! Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Gupt Rogue:
    That’s one way to look at it….or you could take it for what it is – a word that means ‘God willing’ also a word anyone is free to use, including Mr. Chintan Modi. Let’s not cloud the airways with over analysis of something so simple. Seems that’s what our intolerant, bigoted and narrow minded populace does when destroying society and maligning a religion through ill understanding. Cheers. Recommend

  • abhi

    @fahad
    Why are you ashamed of naming the real heros who draw the line? Redcliff (not cripps) just implemented the plan.Recommend

  • abhi

    @chintan
    good luck inshallah.Recommend

  • Gupt Rogue

    @nobody–Really? Is Inshallah is a word that anybody can use freely?are you sure? Because–
    //Thousands of Ahmadis still continue to be jailed for ‘offences’ as serious as printing InshAllah (God willing) on wedding and business cards or praying or even “posing as a Muslim”, whatever that means.//

    Inshallah is not a neutral word, i repeat. This above excerpt is from this week’s article by Kashif chaudhury in this very newspaper–
    http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/pakistan/

    Its funny how immature and ersatz brains like chintan enjoy preaching to the choir and without taking into account the bigger implications of their choices. They have no right to jeopardize the lives and security of others.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    @Chintan Girish Modi:

    “Voices of peace who are reading this, make your presence felt. It’s much needed.”

    Chintan, most of the guys, including me, who are opposing a liberal visa regime are for peace. That is the basis for asking for a tough visa regime for Pakistanis coming into India.

    You falsely assume that we are all war, which we clearly are not. for Mumbai happened when a Terrorist who came through legal means recce-ed the areas for the Terrorists, which almost resulted in war.

    Your assertion is wrong and based on a lot of assumptions. Recommend

  • Vikram

    Author: Mahesh Sakhalkar, a student of Shishuvan School in Mumbai, who was then a ninth-grader, said:….. Pakistan is just like India and the people there are very friendly. It is a great place to be in.

    I agree Pakistanis are friendly people, but real problem is ISI and Jihadi oranizations who may misuse this liberal visa system to recruit Indians as well as plant “jihadis” in India for future activity. It is an age of outsouring, Pakistan may outsource new terrorism projects to “foreigners (non-Pakistanis)”. Major reason for 9/11 was liberal visa policy for Saudi citizens.Recommend

  • Usman

    For once stop fighting and treat each other in a sane manner ..
    This is not a cricket match where you get very emotional.
    The Author stated his opinions and if you dont agree with it, then dont bother reading it.
    Kudoos to the author. I am a Pakistani studying overseas and have heaps of indian friends.
    Would love to visit India once and see the Taj Mahal with my own eyes. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Usman: “he Author stated his opinions and if you dont agree with it, then dont bother reading it.
    Kudoos to the author. I am a Pakistani studying overseas and have heaps of indian friends.
    Would love to visit India once and see the Taj Mahal with my own ”

    One can only know author’s opinions ONLY AFTER READING. Did you feel the same way about Indians before you met LOADS of Indians in USA. Your media and politicians do a good job at creating a bad image of Indian and India.

    There are Muslims in USA who are brainwashed to hate India. Two such people, Dawood Gilani, (half american) and Mr Rana of Chicago helped ISI in planning Bombay attacks on 26/11.

    Every one has a right to give their opinionRecommend

  • vickram

    When a Hindu meet a Muslim, he will use expressions like ‘Inshallah’ ‘Salamalaikum’ etc.

    Muslim will never, ever, respond with even ‘Namaste’.

    Why ? It is due to years of conditioning; Hindus have been conditioned to believe that it is better for them to be in good books of Muslims. Because, they are known to have a short fuse and you never know what he will do when he gets upset. That’s why Hindus in India are always trying to butter up Muslims, always accommodating and always apologetic.

    But, you will never, ever find a Muslim to butter up Hindus. Because, Muslims know that Hindus are weak and incapable of retaliation. So, why should you a please a guy who has no power to hurt you ?Recommend

  • Usman

    Just for your information Vikram .. my father was born in India .. I personally love India myself and we do huge amount of business with India in the Textile Sector through other trade routes since 15 years. Indians are very warm and nice.. I have the utmost respect for everyone in India.
    The opinions you stated about Pakistani media showing a bad image about indians is totally wrong, i hear the same sort of things from my dads clients in India saying they are always trying to show a bad side of each other and we need to sort it out.
    Its about time both the countries man up and see how much benefit they can do through trade & business ties etc.
    and just btw if you bring religion in between .. all my dads clients are Hindus .. actually Indians have been our top buyers … My Muslim cousins In India are more patriotic about their country than I am .. don’t drag religion everywhere. Recommend

  • sundar

    @Chintan Girish Modi:
    Voices of peace who are reading this, make your presence felt. It’s much needed.
    What do you mean ‘voices of peace’? Are you insinuating those disagreeing you as warmongers? Who are you?Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Gupt Rogue:
    Thank you for proving my point. :) Over analysis. And Ahmadis being jailed for such offences is neither here nor there (as ludicrous as it is) . My point is simple and I stand by it: ANYONE can use the word if he or she so chooses. Cheers. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @vickram:
    I disagree with you on all points. Good people respect each other. Most of Muslims I know are very nice people.Recommend

  • Unknown Indian

    @Author

    Did you meet Mumbai attack survivors to show your sympathy ? Why should we allow visas for pakis ? If we allow , number of other foreign nationals will dwindle ,ask how ? Terrorists will sneak into and terrorist attack will refrain foreigners from India . Recommend

  • Salim Langda

    To answer the blogger question: Who draws line around countries? It is the government and that happens to be a democratically elected government. The Foreign and Prime Minister of the India depend on military intelligence to make crucial foreign policy decisions. Visa regime… yes can be relaxed conditionally. Liberal visa regime? Absolutely not. Indian security would be in perils if a liberal visa regime is followed. To give a better analogy: One can put a lock on the door. This prevent 95% of amateurs from breaking in. the remaining 5% like Kasab would break in either ways. Why make it easier for the 100% to break in by removing the lock completely. Only a fool would do that.Recommend