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The chequered history of beleaguered relationship between the nuclear-powered neighbors, India and Pakistan, has stepped into a new phase. The Mumbai mayhem proved highly disruptive as the entire development made during the preceding years was reversed. The much aspired composite dialogue process came to a sudden halt. However, transforming regional and international situation has brought a major shift in the bilateral relations and a thaw is being witnessed. The resumed dialogue process has defused much tension the outward manifestation of which is inking of a new liberalized visa regime replacing the 38-year old a restrictive visa agreement. This understanding is a long stride towards removing the existing trust-deficit and building friendly relationship between the two through enhancing people-to-people contact besides strengthening economic ties which are bound to reshape the destinies of the people inhabiting both sides of the border.
There is no denying the fact that the agreement is not a novel and unprecedented creature in the history of Indo-Pak relations. But novelty appears to be in the apparent realization made by the belligerent parties of a peaceful co-existence that undeniably has no alternative. The world has moved far ahead and enemies of yesterday who fought bloodiest wars committing unspeakable cruelties on opposition have turned out to be friends and allies today. The prevalent inter-dependence approach is not a far cry but an unalterable reality. It demands burrying the hatchet and pursuing a forward-looking vision seeking resolution of all the outstanding disputes. The conflicts assuredly lead to “mutually assured destruction” in the age of nuclear weapons. The optimal way out is eradication of all the chances of the conflict. They can be removed only by creating an environment of trust and confidence bringing the bellicose nations nearer. Such an environment is possible only through mutual enhanced contacts and respecting each other sensitivities. This is intended and aspired by the incumbent governments of India and Pakistan while sealing the fate of much-awaited and hope-generating liberalized visa regime.
The rationale appears to be pragmatic but in order to arrive at the logical conclusion and constructing anticipations about the possible fruits of the document it seems compelling to have an over-view of the salient features of the agreement. These are as under:
1. A non-diplomatic visa is required to be awarded within 45 days while the duration for a diplomatic visa is fixed at 30 days.
2. Senior visitors above 65 and children below 12 would be awarded visa on arrival at the Wagah-Attari border that are also exempted from police-reporting as well.
3. Tourist destination cities have been expanded from 3 to 5 and duration up to 6 months. At the same time tourist groups of 10 to 50 people can secure visa but under the auspices of govt-approved operators.
4. Twin business category visitors can get multiple entry visas up to one year.
5. Pilgrims can get 15 days visa but are required to apply 45 days prior to the scheduled visit.
6. Senior citizens and persons having married across the borders can get visa for an extended period of up to two years.
The aforementioned features of the liberalized visa agreement provide a hopeful view. The time-bound approval of the application for a visa, total immunity from police exemption in certain cases and ensured comfort for the business visitors are some significant features. They would enhance people-to-people contacts, build-up confidence, boost up across the border trade activism and ultimately evaporate the trust-deficit. It would entail creation of stakes in each others economies and social construction blocking path of aggression and war. So, having overcome these menaces and built –up enough confidence, the social assertiveness and economic compulsion would consequently paved the way for amiable settlement of the still unresolved disputes. All this would usher in a new era of progress and prosperity in the South Asia bringing about a revolution in the lives of the billions of inhabitants.
Nevertheless, this extreme optimism and wishful thinking need to be balanced with realism in order to arrive at some realistic conclusion. The history fails to provide a testimony for securing the promising fruits anticipated above through any such agreement made in the past. The bilateral relationship has never remained amiable uninterruptedly over a prolonged period but, in fact, is marred by wars, animosity and belligerency. There is no dearth of hawkish elements on both sides of the border that are always in look for an opportunity to materialize their ideals. There is a long history of the dialogues, agreements, ententes, pledges etc but they all were destined to fail owing to the inherent vulnerability of the leadership to succumb to hate-mongers and perpetrators of violence. Sometimes, even the popular opposition comes in to act as a stumbling block. Therefore, it must be born in mind that the liberalized visa regime is not going to end all the miseries at once yet, it has sprung a hope.
To recapitulate the whole set of argumentative discourse, it can be asserted that the agreement has shown light at the end of tunnel. Both the sides have made a promising start in the resumed dialogue process by finalizing this very agreement that is a happy omen. However, this is not the end. In fact, it is just a beginning though in the right direction. The need is to implement the same in letter and spirit so that the aspired fruits could be harvested at least by the coming generations. Hopes are touching the skies.