Foreign ministers to consider petitions against visa restrictions heading_image Bureaucratic hurdles keep blood relations apart
By Noor Aftab

ISLAMABAD: Living away from blood relations is not more painful for Nazima Babar Reshi, a resident of Sector F-6, Islamabad, than facing needless bureaucratic hurdles in securing a visa to reach Indian occupied Kashmir to meet her parents and relatives.

She was born in Srinagar and married to a Pakistan citizen some 22 years ago. Visiting her parents and relatives at their hometown in Srinagar has always been an agonising experience so, inspired by Aman ki Asha's Milne Do campaign, she came up with an online petition inviting attention of the PMs of India and Pakistan towards plight of visa seekers in both the countries.

The concept of online petition has gained ground as it can act for the betterment of public by showing necessary changes of the various outdated laws that are causing a burden to the society. However, Ms Reshi, who describes herself as a 'non-technical person', had some problems accessing all the signatures in her online petition. The petition got over 1280 views online, but only 50 signatures "because it was difficult to sign," she said. "But the number of views (in just over a week) shows the level of interest." She ended up personally seeking signatures, using a printout, and sending photocopies to friends and relatives. The result was over 600 signatures, which she compiled neatly in transparent plastic folders and delivered to the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan in Islamabad on July 15. Aman ki Asha facilitated the delivery of another petition inspired by the Milne Do campaign: "Make it Easier for People to Travel and Meet Each Other" initiated by the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA). Both foreign ministers assured The News that they would give the petitions due consideration. "We request the leaders of both countries and those at the helm of affairs to step into our shoes and feel the pain like we do," she told The News.

In her online petition, she maintained that for a Pakistani, a normal visa to any city in India takes three to four weeks to process but a visa for the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir takes a year to process. The petition notes that the J&K; state police and IB department in Srinagar have to send a clearance for visa applicants from Pakistan for Srinagar. Then application goes to Delhi IB and to the Kashmir Desk (North block, New Delhi). It is forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs, (MHA) Foreigners Section after which it is conveyed to the Indian High Commission in Pakistan. "There is too much paperwork involved in applying for a visa," she says. "Applicants need to obtain an affidavit, valid only for 45 days, from the city to be visited. Two current bills and English translation of the Nadra ID card is also required with a visa application." Employees have to produce a NOC from their organisation, while those who are self-employed have to submit a business registration letter.

Much of her petition deals with the problems faced by Indian or Pakistani women married to nationals from the other country. She suggested that infants and children under 13 should be exempted from police reporting. In both countries, visa extensions and long-term visas are very difficult to obtain, which makes life particularly difficult for married women like Ms Reshi, with families across the border. The petition suggests that children of a mother with Indian or Pakistani nationality should be given visas to the mother's home country without any obstacles irrespective of their nationality. Visas of Pakistani and Indian nationals married to each other should be made easier. The requirement of getting names of spouses added to the respective passports is another tough task. The petition also requests the governments to set up Indian and Pakistani consulates in other cities besides Delhi and Islamabad - a demand that have long been made by various other organisations. The visa fee is only about Rs 15 on both sides but getting to the respective embassies costs many times more, she points out.

"If one piece of paper is incorrect or missing, applicants have to come again and again, which is particularly disheartening for the poor people." India has also introduced a condition that restricts foreigners from returning to India for 60 days unless they visit a neighbouring country and have a valid ticket back to India. There is no concept of re-entry to India otherwise. Pakistani nationals living in other countries, even if they have citizenship of another country and are living abroad, find it very difficult to obtain visas for India, and vice versa.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

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