Sunday, 28 December 2008

Indo-Pak tension: Steep fall in visa applications


December 28 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 27: There has been a steep fall in the number of Hyderabadis seeking visas to visit their near and dear ones in Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attack a month ago.
The number of Pakistani nationals visiting Hyderabad has also come down. According to sources in the Special Branch (Pakistan Cell), Hyderabad, only a handful of Pakistanis have visited the city after the terror attacks on November 26 as against about 100 a month in normal circumstances.
As many as 1000 Hyderabadis seek Pakistani visas every month but their number came down by half in the past 30 days. "Hyderabad has historic relations with the Pakistani port city of Karachi and thousands of Hyderabadi Muslim families have their relation there. Migration to Karachi and other parts of Pakistan
continued untill the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
"Visits between the two countries to attend marriages and deaths are quite common. Both the nations have strict visa policies. Indians get Pakistani visas only if they have their relatives in Pakistan. There's no tourist visa, only visit visas are issued. Moreover, the number of visas are reciprocal. The restriction should go,"
said Urdu daily Siasat editor Zahid Ali Khan, who recently visited Pakistan on an official trip.
Communication between relatives on either side of the border through internet and telephone is also a daily affair. The recent trouble has only increased their anxiety. Though telephone service providers do not maintain data on the number of calls between India and Pakistan, those operating public call offices said the
calls had gone up in recent times.
"We have been talking on phone quite often these days. Neither of us wants war," said Fazil Hussain Parvez, whose maternal aunt and other close relatives live in Karachi.
There has been, however, no major change in the number of visas issued by Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to Indians. This is because the Pakistan High Commission follows a strict visa regime issuing only a couple of hundred visas to Indian nationals every day.
The heightened tension between the two neighbouring nations has affected visits in both India and Pakistan. Indians visiting Pakistan and Pakistanis visiting India have to register themselves with the local police stations which keep track of their movements. In Hyderabad the Special Branch has an exclusive cell for Pakistani nations. A number of Pakistani nationals have left Hyderabad for Pakistan after the terror attacks.
"In the last 11 months, a little over 1000 Pakistani nationals visited their relatives in Hyderabad, which translates to roughly four Pakistanis arriving in the city every day. But in the last one month the Special Branch police on an average could register visit by just one Pakistani national a day," a senior SB official
told this correspondent.
The Mumbai attacks had their impact on trade relations too with Hyderabad. For the first time in seven years, Pakistani trade delegation will not participate in the annual exhibition in Hyderabad which begins on New Year Day. A couple of Pakistani trade stalls selling ethnic clothes and goods had been a regular feature
at the exhibition.
"There's a sense of fear in both Indians and Pakistanis as war clouds hover. Many Hyderabadis have cancelled their travel plans. Thousands were stranded during 1971 Indo-Pak war and Indians have taken the travel advisory seriously this time," said Syed Vicaruddin, chairman of Indo-Arab League.

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