The lack of a coherent and consistent Indian policy towards Islamabad is once again in evidence with the government’s latest decision to adopt a tough posture while dealing with visitors from Pakistan. New Delhi plans to restrict the movement of visitors from Pakistan to just three cities and clamp down on Pakistani citizens who have overstayed in the country. It is not clear how this hardline policy towards the people of Pakistan will further India’s interest or make Pakistan less belligerent towards New Delhi. As may be recalled, at present citizens from Pakistan can visit twelve Indian cities. The decision to bring the number down to three will mean that many Pakistani citizens will not be able to visit their friends or relatives in different parts of this country. In addition, the government now proposes to introduce 100 per cent pre-verification of individuals from Pakistan who want to visit India before a visa is issued. In other words, the Indian embassy in Islamabad will have to refer each visa application to New Delhi where the application will probably be scrutinized by officials in the home ministry and the Intelligence Bureau. This will mean long delays, with the applications being caught in endless red tape of the Indian bureaucracy.
All this is most unfortunate. Even those who are not particularly taken up with the idea that India-Pakistan relations can be dramatically improved through greater people-to-people contact will find it difficult to support New Delhi’s latest policy. Most Pakistanis who visit India are harmless individuals seeking to temporarily reunite with their friends and families. They are certainly not terrorists or spies. While they may not become great votaries for India within Pakistan, the experience of Indian democracy and pluralism is certain to have a positive impact on them. And this may, in the long term, help the cause of better India-Pakistan relations. By targeting them, India will lose even the little goodwill that exists for it within Pakistan. There is, of course, the legitimate Indian concern about Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country. But terrorists rarely, if ever, have entered India on legitimate visas. In Jammu and Kashmir, they have infiltrated through the line of control and the international border, and in other parts of India, terrorists have entered through the porous border with Nepal and Bangladesh. The inability of India to prevent this infiltration of terrorists must not translate into a knee-jerk reaction against innocent Pakistani visitors, most of whom, after spending a few days in India, return to their country. India needs a clear and comprehensive Pakistan policy, but the government’s latest initiative is certainly not the way to go about it.