Time to give visas to Indian journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Time to give visas to Indian journalists

Pakistan Press Foundation

Mariana Baabar

ISLAMABAD: Is it time for Pakistan to “steal a march over India” and stop Pakistan’s security establishment from stooping down to India’s level while denying visas to Indian journalists who have put in requests to cover the May elections, because in the past when about fifty Pakistani journalists wanted to cover the Indian elections, visas were denied to them.

Especially today, when there is no political government in Islamabad, the security establishment is having fun and games in sitting over not only the visa requests but also requests for consular visits by diplomats at the Indian High Commission to meet with Sarbjit Singh in Lahore.

The Foreign Office says that consular access is being ‘processed’, a polite way of acknowledging that they are waiting a green signal from the security establishment.

Indian journalists tell The News that for them covering the election campaign leading up to the elections would be more interesting professionally, than just coming for a five-day visit close to May 11.

The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi has circulated special ‘election coverage’ forms which Indian journalists say are very uncomplicated and user-friendly. The High Commission says that they are ‘processing ‘ the visa applications.

What they are not saying is that all visa requests are being whetted by Pakistan’s security establishment before even a single visa can be issued. Absolutely nothing is in the hands of the caretaker government or the ministries of foreign affairs and information.

An Indian journalist says that it would be premature to say that scores of journalists who have requested for visas, are facing any ‘difficulty’ as they still have high hopes in the face of the Thimpu Spirit and Aman ki Asha.

Another category of Indian journalists is the case of two very brave Indian journalists stationed in Islamabad for years and not allowed to step foot outside the federal territory unless they get permission to do so.

The too are in limbo, before the security establishment allows them through the External Publicity Wing of the ministry of information, to leave Islamabad.

Interestingly, in a brilliant article in The Hindu, AG Noorani writes that since 26/11, India’s visa policy, never too liberal, became very restrictive thanks to Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

“The stark truth is that both India and Pakistan seek to control “people-to-people contacts” to prevent an independent, organised and powerful constituency challenging its foreign policy from developing in either country; especially if it be one critical of its hard line. On this, as on much else, the honours are evenly divided; except that they thoroughly expose India’s claim of being a liberal democracy,” he writes.

Giving an example he says that even Pugwash was refused permission to hold a conference in India.“Bar a few India-Pakistan seminars in India – generally organised by safe pairs of hands, not excluding some close to the intelligence services – most are held in capitals of neighbouring countries.

“Successive governments in India have followed this restrictive, if not repressive, policy regardless of their political affiliation”, notes Noorani.

As the Zardari-led government has always maintained, Pakistan has nothing to hide and with a liberal visa regime many truths about the country, which are never highlighted positively, can be witnessed first hand by Indian journalists.

Instead of a tit-for-tat policy, the security establishment should let go of its ‘India centric’ policy since the Green Book now identifies the real ‘enemy’ from within us, and really “steal a march” over the Indians.

Source: The News

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