Border unrest affects visa-on-arrival policy

Collateral damage: Scheme meant to benefit the aged found no Pakistani takers

Border unrest affects visa-on-arrival policy

In what is being viewed as an upshot of the escalating tension between India and Pakistan, India on Tuesday abruptly ‘put a pause’ on the process of granting visas on arrival to senior citizens from Pakistan at the Attari-Wagah border, soon after inaugurating the facility this morning.

Amid the on-going strained relations, the launch of the facility for citizens above the age of 65 years as part of the liberalised visa regime signed by the two nations last September, found no takers from Pakistan on Tuesday.

Till morning, all necessary last minute checks were being re-run by officials at the Integrated Check Post (ICP) on the Attari border in Punjab to ensure smooth operationalisation of the facility at launch. Dedicated immigration counters and all other facilities were in place to welcome the guests from Pakistan. However, the process was “put on hold” at the last minute. The timing of the “pullback” of sorts only added to the confusion at the (ICP).

Strangely, not one senior citizen from Pakistan was there at the border to avail of the facility on the first day, even as one Indian mediaperson, Chanchal Manohar Singh, crossed over to Pakistan through similar channel on the other side of the border. Since he did not return even hours later, indications are that Pakistan let the process continue without any hiccups or delays.

Sources in the government, however, maintain that the process has not been called off but has been delayed due to technical issues caused by last-minute clarifications, including on whether Pakistani senior citizens who get this visa need to have a sponsor in India, sought by certain agencies. The government said the recent tension will not derail the liberalised visa agreement signed between India and Pakistan.

Sources said the spiralling tension between the two nations was one factor that was evident from the lack of enthusiasm from the Pakistani citizens. However, the bus from Lahore reached the border as usual. Pakistani passengers walked their way to immigration clearances for travel to India.

India and Pakistan had signed the agreement for a liberalised visa regime in September last year. Visa on arrival for Pakistani senior citizens and children under 12 will allow a single entry on foot across Wagah-Attari and will be valid for 45 days. The facility can  be availed twice a year and people issued this visa will not have to report to local police stations. The visa on arrival facility can be availed only to visit India to meet friends or relatives and cannot be used for business, medical, conference, employment, pilgrimage or any other purpose. For these categories, applicants will have to approach the Indian High Commission and apply for regular visas. Visas on arrival are to be issued daily between 10 am and 4 pm.

Damp squib

The staff at the counters vacated the seats on being conveyed that the process had been delayed. One reason that could have affected the enthusiasm of people is that Pakistanis issued this visa will not be allowed to visit Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and other restricted areas. A huge number of Pakistani nationals have roots in Indian Punjab. Their relatives stay here and even in Jammu & Kashmir.

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