Pakistan plans to relax visa policy in bid to revive tourism

Potentially restarting tourism has been one of the most talked about parts of new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s push to create an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 December 2018

Pakistan plans to relax visa policy in bid to revive tourism

  • “We are reviewing our visa policies. We are trying to bring 55 countries into a visa-free region, which includes most of the European countries,” a government official said
  • British Airways on Tuesday announced it would resume flights to Pakistan next year after a 10-year absence that followed a major hotel bombing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is planning to ease visa restrictions for visitors from 55 countries, including most European nations, in a bid to revive tourism that was devastated by Islamist violence in the fallout from the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
“We are reviewing our visa policies. We are trying to bring 55 countries into a visa-free region, which includes most of the European countries,” Pakistan’s information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, told Reuters.
That comes after Portugal this month declared Pakistan safe for travel, while France has also relaxed its advisory on travel to the South Asian nation
“I’m happy our (travel) adviseries are changing,” said Chaudhry.
Potentially restarting tourism has been one of the most talked about parts of new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s push to create an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan, but visitors to the country often complain of an arduous visa process. Former Real Madrid soccer stars Kaka of Brazil and Portuguese playmaker Luis Figo were recently denied visas to the country for a promotional visit, Chaudhry said, highlighting the nation’s laborious visa process.
“We refused a visa to Kaka and Figo. Can you believe that? I called the section officer and he never heard of ... Kaka,” Chaudhry said, laughing.
“I spoke to the interior secretary yesterday and gave him a piece of my mind.”
Pakistan was last a prominent tourist destination in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travelers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
Since then, a deteriorating security situation and the imposition of a harsh interpretation of Islamic laws has chipped away at the number of visitors.
Following Pakistan’s participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the country was rocked by a decade of regular large-scale militant attacks.
Security has since improved dramatically, with militant attacks down sharply in the mainly Muslim country of 208 million people.
British Airways on Tuesday announced it would resume flights to Pakistan next year after a 10-year absence that followed a major hotel bombing, becoming the first Western airline to restart such flights.


India says it will ‘peacefully resolve’ border stand-off with China

Updated 28 May 2020

India says it will ‘peacefully resolve’ border stand-off with China

  • Development follows US President’s mediation in the dispute
  • Stand-off began in the first week of May when a scuffle broke out near Pangong Tso Lake

NEW DELHI: After weeks of a border stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, New Delhi on Thursday announced it would resolve the matter diplomatically.

“India is engaged with China to peacefully resolve the matter. At the same time we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The development follows US President Donald Trump’s mediation in the dispute. In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Trump said, “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute.”

The stand-off began when a scuffle broke out near Pangong Tso Lake in the first week of May. According to Indian reports, Chinese troops set up dozens of tents on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

A few days later, a Chinese patrol was stopped by Indian guards near the Nathula Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim. A troop build-up in the Ladakh and Sikkim areas followed the incidents. Reports suggested that 10,000 Chinese soldiers were sent to the border.

While New Delhi was still blaming China last week for “hindering” Indian patrols at the border, its Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that “the two sides have established mechanisms both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels.”

Foreign policy experts say that in the absence of any concrete information it is difficult to comment on whether any resolution is actually taking place.

“The whole region of Ladakh is undefined, there is no agreed LAC, in some areas they respect each other’s position, and in some areas they don’t, which is the crux of the problem,” Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News.

“Geopolitical interests of both countries are at the center of the conflict,” Kondapalli said, “For India Ladakh is linked to its sovereignty. India has so many ongoing projects in that area. For China its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes not far away from the region and connect to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. Besides, once American troops leave Afghanistan and a new regime takes over Kabul this might have its implications in the region.”

Manoj Kewalramani, of the Bangalore-based think tank The Takshashila Institution, said that from a geopolitical perspective both sides need stability at this time and the current situation on the border is not helping either of them.

“Beijing is facing challenges on many fronts, an economic slowdown, tensions with the US, international anger amid the pandemic, protests in Hong Kong, etc.,” he said. “Likewise, New Delhi’s interests lie in managing the COVID-19 outbreak at home and focusing on reviving the economy.”