India and Pakistan seem close to resolving the thorny issue of assignment visas that has plagued bilateral ties for well over 2 years. TOI has learnt the 2 countries have arrived at an agreement that, on June 16, they will approve all pending assignment visas for diplomats and other staff members.
As per the understanding, both countries will approve the pending visas at the same time on the aforementioned day.
As reported by TOI on May 25, India had last month pulled out a few officials from its mission in Islamabad without waiting for Pakistan to approve visas for their replacements. Despite having completed their tenure, these officials had been forced to stay put in Islamabad for a very long period of time.
With decisions on visas, and indeed all other issues in India-Pakistan relations, based on reciprocity, or lack thereof, Pakistan too has been waiting for India to approve visas for diplomats and other staff members. In the case of India, it’s learnt that close to 30 staff members, including several diplomats, are awaiting visa.
Timely clearance of assignment visas, or visas meant for diplomats and foreign government officials to allow them to carry out their duties on behalf of their national governments, is essential for smooth functioning of foreign missions. More so in the case of India and Pakistan with both countries having already halved the strength of their respective missions after India’s decision to downgrade ties last year.
Even before that, Pakistan had recalled its high commissioner after India’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, forcing India to the same. The visa concurrence, if it plays out the way it’s intended to on June 16, will be a significant and welcome development allowing both sides to carry out normal diplomatic activities. However, as sources said, it’d be premature to see it as a sign of thaw in relations.
The talk about a possible rapprochement after the February ceasefire agreement has fizzled out in the past couple of months despite reported attempts, apparently at the behest of UAE, to bring the 2 countries closer and ensure that they restore full diplomatic ties. Approval of official visas will allow them to maintain the status quo though.
During his recent visit to the US, foreign minister S Jaishankar had said while it was important if there was a thinking that Pakistan needed to have better relation with India, there was a “clarity of thinking” on the Indian side “that we cannot accept terrorism, or we cannot accept that it is in any way legitimate as diplomacy or as any other aspect of statecraft”.
Pakistan responded to Jaishankar by alleging that peace and security in the region was threatened on account of India’s “brutalization of Kashmiri people and refusal to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions”.