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Neighbours to swap visas for new envoys

New Delhi, Feb. 17: India and Pakistan today agreed to give visas to the new charge d’affaires of their respective missions in Islamabad and New Delhi.

If all goes well, the visa applications of Munawar Saeed Bhatti and T.C.A. Raghavan, designated deputy high commissioners, will be processed tomorrow morning. The decision not to lower the level of representation at the missions comes more than a week after the two countries expelled each other’s charge d’affaires.

Despite a growing opinion against the move, Delhi decided not to lower the representation level to ensure that an alarmed international community does not turn its focus on South Asia and renew demands for starting the stalled dialogue between the two nuclear neighbours.

Moreover, Pakistan’s application to send in a replacement for Jalil Abbas Jilani is being interpreted in Delhi as an admission of the former deputy high commissioner’s guilt. India seems satisfied that Pakistan has taken the initiative to grant Raghavan a visa.

On February 8, India declared Jilani persona non-grata and asked him to leave within 48 hours after he was charged with distributing money to terrorists in Kashmir. Within hours, Pakistan responded in kind: Indian envoy Sudhir Vyas was asked to leave.

Though the two countries have agreed to process the visa applications of the new charges d’affaires, there will be no replacements for the four officials expelled with Jilani and Vyas. With the inclusion of the mission chiefs, the staff strength at the two respective missions will be 47, and that seems to the number agreed on for a while.

Vikram Misri, India’s political counsellor at the mission in Islamabad, was informed this morning of Pakistan’s willingness to process Raghavan’s application, provided Delhi reciprocated the gesture. Within hours, South Block assured the Pakistan foreign office that it would not hesitate to give Bhatti a visa.

The two sides are likely to simultaneously grant visas to the envoys, leaving the date of joining office to them.

Raghavan’s application has been lying with the Pakistani foreign office from last July. When Islamabad applied for Bhatti’s visa in November, Delhi decided to hold it back. The recent double expulsion has forced the two sides to expeditiously clear the pending applications.

The staff strength in the two missions started dipping alarmingly after the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. India withdrew its high commissioner, asked the Pakistan high commissioner to leave and reduced employees at the mission by 50 per cent — 55 members from 110.

Last year, the two sides sent back four members each in tit-for-tat expulsions, bringing the number to 51. Four more were expelled this month with their respective envoys, taking the strength to 46. With permission to take in the new charges d’affaires, the two mission will function with 47 officials each.

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