Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei: Sartaj Aziz, who heads the foreign ministry in Islamabad, was dismissive about the import of the Nawaz Sharif-government recently rejecting the visa applications of two Indian journalists, saying on Tuesday that it did not reflect any downturn in India-Pakistan relations, and that ties between the neighbors continued to remain healthy.
Although Aziz attempted to defend the visa denial on the basis of technicalities, he was neither able to explain why the visas applications of the Indian reporters based there were rejected in such haste or why Islamabad was yet to process the applications of the replacements of Press Trust of India (PTI)’s Rezaul Hasan Laskar and The Hindu’s Anita Joshua, even a month later.
While the caretaker government in Islamabad had rejected the visa of Joshua in May, the Nawaz Sharif-government refused to extend Laskar’s visa. Joshua’s replacement is yet to be issued a visa while the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi has rejected the visa application of Laskar’s designated successor, Snehesh Alex Philip.
Aziz, who is Special Adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told StratPost after his meeting with Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid here, that he didn’t think Pakistan’s refusal to extend visas of the two Indian reporters could become a stumbling block in India-Pakistan relations.
Both Aziz and Khurshid are in the Bruneian capital to attend the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting of foreign ministers.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Aziz when StratPost asked him whether Islamabad having rejected visas to Laskar and Joshua was a ‘fly in the ointment’ for India-Pakistan bilateral ties. Aziz, a veteran politician and likely to be the next President of Pakistan, said, “In one case, the total length of stay was much longer than planned so the new visa is being issued. It was just one of those (things).”
Aziz, who was the foreign minister of Pakistan in 1998-99, said the issue was ‘a routine matter when a certain number of years – in one case I think it was six years or something, and the initial arrangement was for four years.’
The 84-year-old was referring to the case of PTI’s Laskar who has served nearly six years in Islamabad. Aziz’s reply is consistent with Pakistan’s position on the issue ever since StratPost first reported the denial of visas to Indian journalists on June 25.
But the issue is far from routine, as Laskar conveyed his anxiety through his tweets this past fortnight and how he was “booted out” of Pakistan. Laskar, who returned via Wagah to India on June 29, is now back in Delhi. On his Twitter handle @Rezhasan, Laskar termed it a “rushed exit” from Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Dawn recounted Laskar’s “unceremonious departure” and reported how Laskar “as always – was waiting for a renewal of his visa when on June 13 he got a letter informing him that he should leave by June 23.” It says that Laskar “panicked as he had no valid visa by then, without which he could not even leave. Much effort, phone calls and visits later, he was given a ‘generous’ extension till June 29.” The valid visa was issued on June 25, which made him eligible to leave.
In a report titled ‘Pakistan — no country for foreign journalists‘, which apparently contrived to hide the name of the writer and carried no reporter’s byline, it said “Nothing of Hasan’s stay is unusual for an Indian journalist in Pakistan but his departure surely is”.
The report also said that traditionally Indian journalists were allowed a short overlap with his/her successor for a smooth transition but both Laskar and Joshua “were denied this in recent months”. Joshua was asked to leave shortly after the elections (but before the new government took charge) by the caretaker government and The New York Times’ Declan Walsh expelled a day after May 11, his notice period shorter than the Indians.
“The story of these three proves that Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable,” said Dawn and pointedly questioned how both Joshua and Laskar have left after Nawaz Sharif “the statesman who wanted and wants peace with India” has taken the reins of the federal government in Islamabad.
India and Pakistan allow two journalists each to be report from each other’s country. The Hindu and PTI represent India in Islamabad while there haven’t been any Pakistani journalists in India for over two years now. Indian reporters in Pakistan work under severe restrictions, denied permission to travel outside Islamabad, not even to its twin city of Rawalpindi and being subjected to surveillance by local spooks. Pakistani journalists who have served in New Delhi in the past also claim their lot in the Indian capital was not very different.