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Pakistani vanishing acts force visa leash

New Delhi, Dec. 29: In an effort to plug loopholes in internal security, the home ministry will tighten visa regulations for visitors from Pakistan to ensure strict vigil on the movement of Pakistani nationals who often disappear from the official radar screen.

Minister of state for home Vidyasagar Rao said the ministry had been conducting a series of meetings through the month to discuss ways of improving and tightening security. One suggestion that came up repeatedly was to regulate visitors from Pakistan.

Any visitor to India from that country will now have to be sponsored by someone here. This will make their Indian hosts responsible for their “good” behaviour while in the country. The hosts will also be responsible if the visitors overstay or disappear.

Earlier, New Delhi had permitted Pakistani citizens access to 12 cities once they were here. But the number will now be reduced to three cities or towns.

After the Simla agreement, the two sides had signed an accord which entitled nationals of either country to visit a maximum of three places in the other. It also restricted the issue of visas only for meeting relatives or for diplomatic purposes. New Delhi had unilaterally increased the number of places which could be visited by Pakistanis to 12 and had started issuing tourist visas.

Rao said a study revealed that the local addresses given in the visa applications were found to be wrong in 90 per cent of the cases. The Centre has now instructed states to identify, arrest and deport Pakistani nationals who were overstaying. At the same time, old people who are staying with their relatives in India, would be given Indian citizenship if they wanted. Pakistani women married to Indians would also be eligible for Indian citizenship, the minister said. So far, these women had to get their visas extended.

Citizenship is also being considered for some old people, mostly Hindus who had crossed over from Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars and stayed on. Most of these people are in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Rao said, of the 11,208 Pakistani nationals who had entered India legally but were overstaying, 2,324 were missing. Maharashtra has 1,707 Pakistanis overstaying or missing, 946 in Madhya Pradesh, 988 in Uttar Pradesh and 634 in Bengal.

These missing Pakistanis are worrying the authorities. The government would also install computers to record entry and exit of foreign nationals in different parts of the country to develop a nationwide database.

Intelligence agencies have for long complained about the number of Pakistani visitors who enter India with valid documents but never go back. In the past, Pakistan’s ISI has often sent in spies like this.

In the last few years, a small number of militants — some sent with the connivance of the ISI, others perhaps on their own steam — have entered India with valid travel papers and then destroyed them. Once these anti-national elements come into the country, they merge with the local population and it becomes extremely difficult for the authorities to distinguish them from the local population.

Rao said the government was being forced to consider a stricter visa regime for Pakistanis because that country was sponsoring terrorists in India.

He quoted deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, to say that Pakistan has become “an epicentre of global terrorism”.

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