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Fears over expulsion of two Indian journalists

PAKISTAN: The expulsion of two Indian journalists might lead to the destabilisation of the region

Two Indian journalists have been ordered to leave country no later than May 20 without being given any reason for the non-renewal of their visas. It is claimed in certain government circles that the decision was made by the military establishment. The Daily News International, quoting some close aides of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said that though they (the government) tried to ensure that these two journalists would be granted visas but it was completely out of their hands as, "decisions were being taken elsewhere".

The two journalists, Mr. Snehesh Alex Philip of the Press Trust of India (PTI) and Ms. Meena Menon of The Hindu newspaper, were told by the External Publicity (EP) wing of the Federal Ministry of Information on the evening of May 13 to pack up and leave the country by May 20. They received this information in the form of correspondence delivered in an official brown envelop which informed them that their visas would not be renewed.

It looks very much as if the decision was made in haste and the journalists were told to leave the country on May 20. However, there are no flights from Pakistan to India before May 21.

Comments from political circles appear to agree that the decision from some quarters not to renew their visas has come at a time when the Indian communal political party, the BJP, is to form its government and it is felt that the party is very much against Pakistan. There is no doubt that hawks from both sides will enjoy the extremism and the promotion of fundamentalism.

The Interior Ministry commented that visas for media people are made on the recommendation of External Publicity. However, the ministers in their private conversations with media personnel said that the decision was not taken by the government but rather by the 'secret government organisation'.

The ministers of the Nawaz Sharif government had no prior knowledge about the decision and expressed their apologies about the reasons behind the decisions. The Daily Dawn said that that the government is aware of the shabby manner in which the matter has been handled and it is evident from the fact that no one is willing to talk about the issue or accept responsibility. Talking to the Daily Dawn, the concerned official in the EP wing said that, "they were on a facilitation desk" and that the decision about the visas had been made by the Interior Ministry.

The Daily News said that some close aides of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told The News that, though they tried to ensure that these two journalists were granted visas, it was completely out of their hands as decisions were being taken elsewhere. However, no one would was prepared to go on record and make this statement. It is no secret that visa matters for foreigners are handled by the security establishment.

There is a written agreement between the Pakistani and Indian governments where a reciprocal arrangement allows two correspondents from each country to be stationed in the other's capital. However, for several years now, no Pakistani journalist has requested a visa to be posted in India.

The order to leave Pakistan has come at a time when there is visible rift between the government of Nawaz Sharif and the military on the issue of bettering relationships with India and to declare it as a favoured country. Nawaz Sharif has committed on many occasions to not only expand trade relations with India but also ease the travel restrictions and improve the overall level of inter-state ties.

According to one report published in a Pakistani newspaper today, "no reason was given for this decision".

This is not the first time that an invisible party in the government has taken action to sour relationships between Pakistan and India at a time when bilateral relationships are improving. It can only be assumed that they consider the improved relationship a threat to their existence. It is interesting to note that the annual budget is being prepared and these issues always 'appear' to raise their heads around this time so that the armed forces are granted more allocations.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government to immediately review its decision for the non-renewal of the visas for these two Indian journalists. The government's decision to do so will also improve the fragile relations between the two nuclear states at a time when any possible improvement will only be to Pakistan's benefit.

Such decisions based on unilateral actions will not only have a negative effect on the bi-lateral relationship between Pakistan and India but will also lead to the possibility of warmongering by the hawks of both countries. The government must take the situation in hand and show restraint on such sensitive issues which might bring two nuclear states closer to destabilising the entire region.

ends

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