New Delhi is quietly moving ahead with curbs on visas for Pakistani nationals visiting India, with artists, singers and actors likely to be the first group to be singled out for maximum visibility and impact, South Block sources have told The Indian Express. This is, possibly, the first retaliatory step from India in the wake of the death sentence handed out to former navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav by a secret Pakistani military court on charges of spying. India has maintained that Jadhav is an “innocent Indian kidnapped by Pakistan”.
While the initial idea was to block all visas for Pakistani nationals, sources said, it was decided to “test” the waters by first targeting a “high visibility” group. Sources said that although there have been no explicit instructions given to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, a “go-slow mode” is being activated.
Officials said the government is toying with the idea of placing a blanket ban, too. But sources acknowledged that this would be difficult to implement as there are many categories requiring humanitarian intervention, including patients and students.
New Delhi and Islamabad are still at loggerheads over the issue of diplomatic visas over the last six months. After diplomats from both sides were withdrawn last year, at least 10 diplomatic visas — for diplomats and diplomatic staff — are pending.
“The present situation, after Jadhav’s sentencing, is going to get worse. The missions will have to work with depleted strength for some more months now, it seems,” said sources. Diplomats from the two missions met about three months ago, when the last tranche of visas for officials and diplomats was cleared.
South Block sources said the government is exploring various diplomatic and non-diplomatic options “to corner Pakistan on the issue.” “We are exploring soft as well as hard options,” said a source.
New Delhi will gauge the response from Islamabad, even as it explores diplomatic and legal options to save Jadhav from the gallows in Pakistan, said sources.
However, Pakistan appears to have hardened its stance on the issue with its Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa telling Corps Commanders at the Rawalpindi GHQ Thursday that “no compromise shall be made on such anti-State acts”, while referring to Jadhav’s case.
Earlier on Thursday, the government said it has no knowledge of Jadhav’s location in Pakistan or his health condition, and would once again seek consular access. “We are making all efforts to get him back but we can’t reveal the steps that will be taken to achieve it,” said Gopal Baglay, official spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs. “We are in touch with Pakistan through our High Commission on this immensely important issue.”
Pakistan has, so far, turned down 13 requests for consular access to Jadhav, who has been in custody since March last year.
“All our requests for consular access have been denied. The so-called legal process done by Pakistan was opaque,” said Baglay.
Pointing out that on one occasion, Pakistan had said that it would provide consular access provided India investigate the charges against Jadhav, he said, “That itself is a proof that they didn’t have enough evidence. Such a request is also against the established norms of seeking consular access.”