Signing a new visa regime is one of the objectives of External Affairs Minister SM Krishna three-day visit to Pakistan starting tomorrow (8 September). But on the eve of the trip, in which Krishna will be accompanied by a plane-load of journalists, Pakistan has chosen to reject the visa application of Praveen Swami of The Hindu - offering further evidence that mistrust runs deep between the two countries.
Oddly, Swami's visa was first granted and then rejected by the Pakistani authorities, without any explanation being given.
The Ministry for External Affairs usually sends invitations to media organisations, who in turn nominate the journalists they want to send. Documents are then sent and the host country then gives the individual the visa.
Swami had supplied the documents for the visa and was even called for a meeting at the Pakistani high commission, where he was spoken to very politely, given a book of poetry and told by the man present at the meeting that the 26 November 2008 terror strikes were an American plot.
"The meeting ended on a very pleasant note," he said.
However, while other journalists soon received their passports stamped with a visa, Swami's arrived with a visa and a cancelled stamp on it.
While the Pakistan authorities said they were willing to give any other nominee of The Hindu a visa for the visit, the newspaper decided not to send anyone. Unfortunately for Swami, even the Indian government chose not to rake up the issue and did not put it's foot down with its Pakistani counterparts.
"In my view, every country is entitled to give or reject a visa to visit it under normal circumstances. But in the case of journalists accompanying a formal visit by a minister, if a host country starts choosing who can go and who cannot, it is disturbing. It is just immature to deny someone a visa," Swami said.
Given the manner in which Swami's visa was rejected, one suspects that the visa may have been rejected by the military establishment due to the journalist's articles on national security and intelligence agencies on both sides of the border, which might not have been received too well.
Swami, who hasn't ever been to Pakistan before, said he "was not surprised". However, he doesn't see the logic behind it.
"I can maintain contacts with people across the border over Skype, telephone and other means. Pakistani newspapers are easily available online...In a larger sense, policy makers on both sides of the border need to understand that the world has changed dramatically in the last decade and a half and it is not possible to implement such information control purely by rejecting visas," he said.
While India also doesn't have the best record when it comes to accepting visitors from across the border, particularly journalists and academicians, it has improved in recent years. But there has been little change in Pakistan, Swami said.
"For years now everyone has been saying that journalists, academicians and researchers from both countries should be allowed to travel freely across the border but we don't have a single doctoral student from either India or Pakistan in the neighbouring country conducting research," he said.
Why? Because the governments of both countries, despite overtures to each other, have not really relaxed their visa norms.
"If the countries have any intention of comprehending ground realities in the other nation they need to open up far, far more," Swami said.
Updated Date: Sep 07, 2012 13:56:06 IST