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Pakistan spurns India's visa camps proposal

K J M Varma in Islamabad | April 22, 2004 00:27 IST

In a setback to India's plans to run visa camps in places like Karachi to meet the surging demand for visas, Pakistan on Wednesday said it would agree for such a proposal only after India agrees to restore full strength in the respective diplomatic missions in Islamabad and New Delhi.

Pakistan has conveyed on numerous occasions to India that permission for visa camps is directly linked to restoration of normal strength in the High Commissions of both the countries, a statement by the Foreign Office in Islamabad said.

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The waiting period for visas in Islamabad is almost 6-8 months and setting up visa camps in other cities would further delay the process.

"The government of Pakistan would certainly consider setting up visa camps on reciprocal basis when the India government agrees to increase the mission's strength," it said.

The staff strength in each of the missions at present is around 60 and Pakistan wants it to go up to 110, which was the original strength when India pulled out half of its staff in protest against the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001.

The strength came down to 47 after a spate of expulsions that followed. The two sides began increasing their mission strength in stages after the recent thaw in the relations.

India was hopeful that Pakistan would agree to the idea of running the camps as New Delhi granted permission for the Pakistan High Commission to organise a visa camp at Amritsar to provide visas to Indian cricket fans during the recent Indo-Pak series.

Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon had in January 2004 proposed visa camps in Karachi where there is maximum rush for Indian visas. Residents of the city, as well as people of Sindh, have to travel over 1,000km to Islamabad to get Indian visas. The Karachi consulate was closed in about a decade ago due to differences over 'Jinnah House' in Mumbai.

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