Thursday, 30 September 2004
India and Pakistan may allow each other's tourists
Going against the trend being set by the USA toward increasing governmental obstacles to international travel, Pakistan and India agreed earlier this month that they would begin issuing tourist visas to each other's citizens -- for the first time since the British colonies and feudal fiefdoms in South Asia were partitioned into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.
Holders of passports from most foreign countries, including the USA, have been able to cross between India and Pakistan as tourists, with astonishing ease, even when citizens and residents of the two countries have not. Each time I've done so, though, it's been a surreal experience, as though I were slipping through a trap door directly between Washington and Moscow at the height of the Cold War. More disconcerting than that, though, because India and Pakistan are in many respects so similar, despite their hatred of each others' governments .
The partition of "the subcontinent" involved displacement of peoples on a historically unprecended scale, and perhaps a hundred million Indians and Pakistanis today have relatives or ancestral ties to places on the other side of the border. Whenever local people in either country learned that we had been on "the other side", they pressed us with questions about what it was like, and letters to carry on our next crossing. We had lunch with a scholar of regional relations at a presitgious univeristy in a city near the border, who plied us with questions about the places he had studied all his career, but had never been permitted to visit.
Some limited visits have been permitted in recent years, but only for family reunions or religious pilgrimages. Citizen diplomacy has been possible only under cover of these loopholes.
There have been ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations and border rules (although the border has, to reiterate, remained open to USA and other foreign citizens even in the worst of times). But in addition to the opening of the border to tourists (the effective date of which I've been unable to determine), India and Pakistan are now at least talking about the even more remarkable possible step of opening the border between the portions of Kashmir that they each control, a matter near the top of Kashmiris' own agenda for short-term measures to improve the conditions of their lives under partition.Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 30 September 2004, 15:33 ( 3:33 PM)