The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spouses earn wages of peace
- Visa wave forces Indians to tap a home-grown solution

Islamabad, May 31: Take a working tip from Indian High Commission staffers here: when visas go up to 10,000 a month from 10 and you just can’t keep pace, don’t take work home. Take home to work, instead.

Unable to handle the rush of peacetime Pakistanis opting to summer in India, desperate visa workers at the Islamabad mission have resorted to a desperate remedy: taking spouses to work. All for a monthly pay of Rs 10,000.

“Earlier, if there were 100 visa applicants, 90 would be non-Pakistanis and only 10 from that country. Today, over 90 per cent are Pakistanis,” a source said, explaining why visa-processing had become madness of late.

Till before Pakistan’s dapper general had crossed over with his “naya dil” and the Prime Minister embraced him with open arms, no more than 10 Pakistanis would apply in a month for an Indian visa. Now, the same figure has zoomed to over 10,000.

But the number of staffers at the high commission has not gone up correspondingly, which is the crux of the problem.

When the nations had been warring over Kashmir and tensions had soared after the failed Agra summit in 2001, the neighbours had pared mission staff strength from 110 to 80. It has stayed at that level, although friendlier times have been rung in. A proposal is pending to restore and, possibly, enhance it.

An overworked visa worker at the mission remarked jokingly: “We belong to a tribe that prefers war to peace.”

A source said the visa rush would be worse if the processing time were not as long as 30 days.

“Because of the time taken, the demand is not as much as it could be. The actual demand could be four times higher if the waiting period becomes less.”

Even so, applicants from Islamabad get visas faster than those from Lahore and Karachi. This is because the mission does not have back-up services to collect passports and related documents, process and deliver them. It has to bank on private couriers like FedExpress and TCS.

The mission is also weighed down with hosting an unending stream of Indian politicians and their teams who have been flocking to Pakistan. BJP chief L.K. Advani --- whose visit is considered second in importance only to the Prime Minister’s --- is already there and petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar will be catching up next week.

Then will follow --- all in May --- former poll panel chief T.S. Krishnamurthy, four Saarc delegations, a 100-member Ficci team, the Punjab Speaker and his 45 MLAs, minister for women and child welfare Kanti Singh, the defence secretary, the RBI governor and a team from the Coast Guard.

Come June, and the Hurriyat Conference will land up for a fortnight.

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