THE faux magnanimity that Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj exudes on Twitter in responses to request from pakistan for visas suggests that there is more to the picture than meets the eye.
In reply to a parliamentary question, Indian Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has confirmed what many Pakistani applicants for Indian visas have claimed in recent times: India has dramatically cut back on visas issued to Pakistanis. In 2017, India has issued 18,000 fewer visas to Pakistani applicants than it issued in 2016.
Already little more than a trickle, the official flow of people across the Pakistan-India border has been further choked by India: 52,525 visas to Pakistanis in 2016 had until November this year been reduced to 34,445.
Read more: Indian planning to slow down visa process for Pakistan applicants- report
The reverse flow, Indians travelling to Pakistan, has seen an uptick: 6,000 more visas issued in 2017 until November, for a total of 45,519, according to Pakistan High Commission officials in India.
Even so, the numbers in both directions are unacceptably small and are an indication of the deep freeze in ties between the two countries.
Unhappily, there does not appear to be a readily identifiable path back towards normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. Both domestic and regional dynamics suggest that the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will continue to try and heap pressure on Pakistan for myopic gains.
The recent furore in India in the midst of state of elections in Gujarat underlined the luridness of the anit-Pakistan sentiment that is being deliberately fanned by the Modi government. That the current prime minister accused his immediate predecessor, Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, of conspiring with Pakistan to defeat the BJP in a state election was truly astonishing.
Also telling was the response of Mr Singh, an Indian leader thought to have long yearned for peace between South Asia’s biggest rivals: Mr Singh suggested that it is Mr
Modi who is soft on Pakistan, not the Congress party. That is the state of the discourse in India on Pakistan: national leaders competing with each other to take a more strident tone against this country.
Caught in the middle are the average citizens of India and Pakistan. With more than 1.5bn people in the two countries and tens of millions with family or historical ties in India and Pakistan, it ought to have been inconceivable that only about 80,000 visas were granted in the first 11 months of 2017 by India and Pakistan.
People-to-people contacts are vital to maintaining constituencies of peace in both countries and ought to be separate from the very real problems that the two states are grappling with.
If India is determined to play politics with the issuance of visas for Pakistanis, Pakistan should demonstrate a greater understanding by inviting more Indians to visit this country and experience first-hand the generosity and welcoming spirit of the people here.