India on Wednesday tightened medical visa rules for Pakistanis, saying a letter of recommendation from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will enable patients from there to get the travel nod immediately.
This is in line with unstated visa restrictions imposed by New Delhi over the last few weeks after Kulbhushan Jadhav was given the death sentence for “espionage and subversive activities” in early April.
The Indian Express had first reported on April 14 that New Delhi was quietly moving ahead with curbs on visas for Pakistanis visiting India, which will have maximum visibility and impact.
They have targeted sportspersons and are planning to put artistes on the radar.
In recent weeks, medical visas have become difficult to get for Pakistani patients. Sources said that although there were no explicit instructions given to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, a “go-slow mode” was being practised.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay termed the reports of visa tightening as “baseless” but confirmed that only a recommendation letter by Aziz will be cleared “immediately”.
“We have suggested that their Foreign Minister or Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaz Aziz give a recommendation letter and it will be cleared immediately, without any delay,” he said, adding that a recommendation would ascertain that the requests received from Pakistan were “genuine”.
The condition of getting a recommendation from the foreign affairs advisor is being seen as making it more difficult for Pakistanis to come to India. In this strained atmosphere between the two countries — in the wake of Jadhav’s sentencing and the mutilation of Indian soldiers along the Line of Control — a letter from Aziz will be difficult to procure for Pakistanis.
“In such an atmosphere, when the two sides are having acrimonious exchanges, it is unlikely that Aziz will be writing recommendation letters to Swaraj,” a Pakistan government source told The Indian Express.
The Indian side, however, said the insistence on the recommendation letter is because Swaraj gets many requests for visas on social media as well as through emails. Since it is difficult to ascertain the authenticity of such requests, officials said, the Indian government came up with this idea for verifying the credentials of such individuals.
Baglay said that in previous years, thousands of medical visas have been issued to Pakistani citizens to come to India and benefit from health facilities here.