The innocuous-looking Indian announcement on Saturday in Delhi regarding a relaxation of the visa regime for Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir residents to visit J&K carries a lot of meaning. The previous regime allowed POK residents to hold 4-week single-entry visas that are extendable by another 2 weeks. The new regime allows them to hold multi-entry visas with 6-months’ stay allowed. This is a major relaxation of the regime and it needs to be welcomed.
What it signifies in political terms also needs to be grasped. MHA has been traditionally sensitive about granting liberal visas for POK residents to come to J&K. The new measure signifies a measure of growing self-confidence about the security climate in general. Two, it goes some way toward meeting a grievance among the Kashmiri people that they should have greater freedom to cross LOC. To that extent, this is a measure to assuage public opinion in J&K. That is, it forms part of a package that the government can be expected to announce in stages to address their grievances – measures that signify responsive governance.
Three, there is a meaningful signal to Pakistan as well. The point cannot be lost that the ceasefire along the LOC is holding; the cross-border infiltration by militants has come down significantly; and, apart from rhetoric now and then, Pakistan did not try to exploit the situation in J&K in the recent months to stir up an Intifada-type agitation. There is also a perceptible change of tone even on the part of the Hurriyet leaders. That is, the Indian ‘comfort level’ regarding Pakistani intentions is progressively rising.
Most certainly, the timing of the announcement is significant – on the eve of the meeting of Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan in Delhi on Monday.
– March 28, 2011