Thinking the unthinkable: visa-free travel between India and Pakistan

May 16, 2008

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is pushing for visa-free travel with India, and has gone to the extent of saying Islamabad might do it unilaterally  if New Delhi is not prepared to go the distance.

As ideas go, visa-free travel in a globalised world isn’t anything remarkable. In the context of the tortured India-Pakistan relationship this, however, would be nothing short of a political masterstroke.

For people like my parents’ generation, among the millions who crossed the border from Pakistan following the bloody partition of India never to go back, visa-free travel would be akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Likewise for the millions of Muslims who moved in the opposite direction, leaving homes and some family members behind in India, before the curtain dropped.


Until the peace process began in 2004, there was barely a trickle of Indians and Pakistanis travelling between the two countries. Just over 8,000 visas were issued to Pakistanis by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad the year before; that number reached a bit more respectable figure of 100,000 by 2007. The numbers are far less for Indians visiting Pakistan.

And it must rate as one of the most oppressive visa regimes between any two countries. For one, there is no concept of a tourist visa for nationals from the two countries. I, as an Indian, cannot go to Pakistan as a tourist; it has to be for a purpose such as birth, death or marriage and you must know somebody there, such as a relative or a friend for the application to be even processed.

And if you are one of the handful who do get a visa after months of waiting, it is usually a city-specific visa; so if you are a Pakistani you could get a visa to visit New Delhi but not Mumbai;  for an Indian, it could be Islamabad, but not Rawalpindi. And you must report to the police upon arrival and at the time of departure.

Indian High Commission, Islamabad

Even diplomats of the two countries suffer much the same restrictions. A Pakistani embassy official based in New Delhi for example cannot travel to Agra three hours away without permission from Indian authorities; and precisely the same restrictions apply to Indian diplomats based in Pakistan.

So for Sharif to suggest abolition of visas – against such a history of distrust – does take your breath away. Is is really possible ? Bombs this week in the Indian tourist city of Jaipur won’t help and only strengthen the case of those who point to external links to the attacks and urge caution in allowing easy movement between the countries.


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Hi Sanjeev,

Sounds very rosy!! Why may I ask , a conservative muslim party leader like Sherif is pushing for visa free travel?
It is true that a lot of people might find it exciting, but so would be a bunch called “Terrorists”.
How can anybody be naive that, Sherif is not influenced by extremists when he suggests this.
Of the two countries, no prizes for guessing,who is going to be excited.
Why may ask, such a restriction is there in the first place?
Tell you my friend, I am not a BJP. I have Pakistanis working with me in my office in Canada.
Tell you frankly, I was shocked and disturbed that the front gate is trying to be be opened now.
More over the complaint tone with which you refer to the Jaipur blast as a possible killer to this Idea is flabbergasting.
It takes my breath away that you can fool some people all the time.

May good sense prevail.

Posted by Rajiv Paliath | Report as abusive

SHEER UTOPIA. India is already on the brink with illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, now will the govt allow Pakistanis too, sounds rosy, as said by Rajiv.

Posted by Manu | Report as abusive

how nice is this idea in the background of our common history and culture,it would be really nice that the people on both side can cross the borders without visa and can see see places onces their forefathers lived and talked about and those who have relatives can visit them. when people to people contacts will increase as a result,it will lessen the level of official propaganda that is usually based on rhetoric .is it possible that this will happen in our life times…ok if not in our life times even then we can hope that our children or grand children will not live under the war clouds and the era of hatred which was artificially created and cultivated by some invisible hands……..and we should appreciate those who say such things not to doubt their intension’s,please

Posted by Liaqat-ur-Rehman | Report as abusive

HAHA sounds crazy….what an idiotic deal

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

For the day this visa free takes place will be a blessed day for our one nation called INDIA AND PAKISTAN, blood will join bloods Barrier no more restriction no more suffering no more long lines in front of both embassies India and pakistan begging for visa,and this unhearted,animal called the authorities to issue visa. How are this ________ to stop meeting blood to bloods. Now all will came to end. May the Almight bless this day

Posted by Thomas Joseph Micheal Marshal | Report as abusive

Before VISA free travel, pakistan has to reteach the correct history, and include respect for other religion in it’s text book. Indian masses are bred on respect where as in pakistan everything is only islam and no history starts before that.

It needs to sign defence and foreign policy union with India (like canada , USA), so that it doesn’t play front for chinese espionage (which it is doing currently).

Unless it does remove jihadi mindset and sets a firm resolve, India will be at it’s own peril to invite such economically backward and medival thinking people in it’s fold. We are already having enough economic migrants from bangladesh.

We have already lot of pakistani settlement inside india near rajasthan border , due to economics. We can not solve pakistan’s economic and social problem by importing their poor and socially deprived, plus fanatics in our major cities.

Posted by Gautam | Report as abusive

This is great idea but still need time to settle all other issues between india and pak.if both came to settlement of the boundary issue then the half is done. let us hope for the best.

Posted by Batten | Report as abusive

Thank GOD, finally some people are starting to talk the true sentiment of the great many massess on both sides of the border. I visited Pakistan and my birth place Chak # 61, Distt Monmtgomary ( now Feslabad I believe} We reached in the village just about the time of sun set. There was a man by the name of Najar, about 10 years older than I. He knew, my parent and the other relatives. We were so excited to meet. Najar’s children and grand children and girl and ladies were so, hosiptable, not a wink I felt suspisious about their love. One Sikh, by myself among, a strange Muslim family, feeling like an old forgotten family member has found a long lost family. What a wonderful idea of Mr Sharif. Good luck to all concerned people of Baba Farid and Guru Nanak to the real essence of the land.

Posted by Kashmir Singh Bains | Report as abusive

In stead of developing the missles to aim at each other, the Governments of Pakistan and India shoud develop a commom whip to whipe out the terroism from their land. and let the people enjoy a VISA free travel back forth.

Posted by Kashmir Singh Bains | Report as abusive

Not a good idea, Mr. Sharif must be seeing some $$$ sign in this plan. due to the tragic history between two countries, other steps that should be taken before going after visa free travel between these countries. Kashmir and water sharing are the top two issues that must be taken care first. Following these steps trade issues must be resolved.

Posted by Denali | Report as abusive

Sooner or later thats the future, but unfortunately fundamentalist Hindus will not go with it, as they distrust Pakistan.

Posted by Ram Singh | Report as abusive

This is a silly proposal by Nawaz Sharif, made at at the end of his interview with Tehelka. Even he, a bear of tiny brain, must know that there will never, ever, be a visa-free regime. It is impracticable; utterly impossible.

Of course everyone would welcome it — but we all know that the main beneficiaries would be drug smugglers, crooks of all natures, and terrorists. Current regulations are bureaucratically hideous, and cross-border families and other genuine, innocent, travellers suffer from government-encouraged inertia and deliberate and sometimes bloody-minded obstruction on both sides. (Any readers ever gone through Wagah? It can be mega-tedious, let me tell you.)

But given the distrust between India and Pakistan — some of it justified — it is necessary to filter out visa applicants whose reason(s) for seeking travel might be less than innocent.

But Nawaz Sharif has no right to state that Pakistan would effect a visa-free agreement unilaterally. That would require approval by government, of which he is not a member. He has not been elected to Pakistan’s National Assembly. He has no mandate from the people of Pakistan to speak for them. His comment about visas, as with other observations he made in his interview, was made as a private citizen.

We keep hearing national policy pronouncements from Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

But who elected them to make such statements? Why are they speaking for Pakistan? Is this democracy?

Posted by beecee | Report as abusive

No way india should allow visa free travel. infact india should not allow even visa travel also for pakis.

Posted by deepak | Report as abusive

The problem is difference in the set philosophies. For us the rights of the neighbours are almost close to that of near relatives and forms the fundelementals of our ideology (unless the neighbour proves otherwise). For the Indian philosopher Chankiyia neighbours are born enemeies. where does one go with such a mindset of fanatic Brahmins?
If live and let live is the Ahnsa beliefs and that of Mahatama Ghandi then why deny Pakistan Kashmir and the rivers unless you want Pakistan to die thirsty so that you may feel cool? We however will take another recourse if thirst is is to be put in our neck. Would it not be better to find a peaceful means of solving our disputes so that the region mutually gets benefitted rather than otherwise!?

Posted by anwar | Report as abusive

I really don’t think its in India’s interest for visa-free travel, particularly as Pakistan was created in order to divide and destroy India. Of another major concern is Bangladesh. Bangladesh is now the world’s major source of illegal migrants and bogus refugee claimants. Many of these are organized gang members and their entry is facilitated by the corrupt Communist Party running West Bengal which makes millions from this illegal migration (as does the government of Bangladesh). Bangladeshi migrants pose both an economic threat to Indians as well as a security threat. There is also the issue of racism as Bangladeshi migrants discriminate against the local Indians. Its unfortunate that the socialists and communists running India plan on doing nothing to stop this major threat to India.

Posted by david | Report as abusive

As an Indian living and working in Islamabad (I’m a journalist) I know the kind of demand there is for an Indian visa here. At least once every week, I have someone calling me — sometimes complete strangers who say they got my number from the friend of a friend of a friend — asking if I can help out with getting them a visa.
From what I know of how our two countries work, visa-free travel is very, very far away. The “national security” establishments on both sides will ensure it never happens.
If they can loosen up the tight regime that exists now, that would be a big stride forward. They’re talking about “group tourism” as part of this new “liberalised” regime, which means giving tourist visas to a group of not less than 10 people, who apply for visas through an approved tourist agency. But then, they’ve been talking about these proposals since 2005. And where are we now? 2008.
The most number of visa applicants in Pakistan are from Karachi and other urban areas in Sindh ( that’s where most of the migrants from India live and therefore the place with the max. number of divided families). But as everything between India and Pakistan has to be strictly reciprocal, Pakistan will not allow India to reopen its Karachi consulate unless it finds a place for the Mumbai consulate. The Pakistan govt hasn’t been able to find a place in Mumbai, plus it’s all very tied up to Jinnah House, and it’s more complicated now because Nusli Wadia’s mom Dina (Jinnah’s daughter) has claimed it as hers in the Supreme Court.
So looks like Karachi wallahs have to put up with coming to Islamabad for their visas for the foreseebale future. I met a dentist’s technician from karachi in the visa line outside the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. He’d managed to get one day’s leave to come and apply for the visa. He’d paid a hefty airfare. And he’d to take the evening flight back. And then, when he was two people away from the counter, it closed. Things have improved since then, there are more counters and it’s open longer. But having this facility in Karachi would help much more. Sadly it won’t happen.

Posted by Nirupama | Report as abusive


zardari and sharif!!!

If you can make visa free travel between india and pakistan you will go down in history as the biggest heros. this will be a dream come true. this will be real peace initiative. this will finish the terror and war in the region. money spent in defence will be spend for welfare of the people. we are one people one family. this has been my dream and my friends called me mad. but i knew one day this is going to happen. i am an indian citizen. and will like to see interation of people of both countires. this is the beginning. alllah and bhagwan will make it a success. Zardari sharif long live. hope to see this in reallty soon like millions pakistanies and indians my dream will sure come true.

Posted by mala | Report as abusive

Absolutely not! The maximum that can be done is an increase in visa quota to educated pakistanis only.I don’t want madrsa educated farm labourers to come into my country.

Posted by Shantanu Chatterjee | Report as abusive

I would go to the other extreme and say that with more and more pakistani terrorists infiltrating into India and ombing our cities… we must out a complete STOP to all pakistani nationals visiting India.
Lives of our people are more important that trying to be decent and polite with Pakistan.

Posted by joy | Report as abusive

For years I believed that India and Pakistan shared a common culture and heritage and that any animosity that existed between them was a result of the Partition where thousands died and millions got uprooted, leaving a never healing wound in the hearts of all Indians and Pakistanis.

Being a Pakistani and Punjabi I would loved to have seen soft borders between the two Punjabs. However day by day I am reminded of my naive optimism. The core of India today is Maharastra, Gujrat and southern Indian states, which have little common heritage with Pakistan except for being enemies and having a deep rooted hatred. As a result of this other Indian regions newer generations ae also following the same mantra.

The same is some what true of Pakistan, social experiment that is Pakistan has resulted in two parrell cultures, the local historic culture of the regions and and more golbal Islamic culture. As a result of this and an over-powering army most Pakistani’s either feel animosity towards the Indians or indifference.

Sadly for the ever shrinking minority in between (including myself) we are just remined that cultures and heritage are a chaing phenomenon.

Posted by Ali Azam | Report as abusive

I Am An Indian And Heartly Loved Pakistan And I am Sure Most People Of Pakistan And India Loves Each Other, I Love Karachi And People Of karachi And When Today Both Country (ploitician )Also Knows Thier iS No Way Better Then friendship,No way better Then Love,India And Pakistan Dont Have any Other Way Then To Love each others,And I am Sure One day Will be(Not Sure Of time )That Visa Will Be very easy,even not free but it wil be on arrival visa,And India And pakistan People Can easily Go to Each others.

As Far As Terrorist and Others ,they Dont Need A Visa To Enter Any country,So It Does Not matter How Many terrorist want to come or not,they are coming(if any)india even visa is not easy,so we must forget them and we must think people to people contact and one day wil be come thier will be no terrorist in any country,because only love is the way which can win the terror.

Posted by Abbas | Report as abusive

Adeel Khan sherwani from Atlanta

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Thanks for the kind mention
Adeel Khan Sherwani from New York

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Thanks for the kind mention
Adeel Khan Sherwani from

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

I also agree with what is written.
Adeel Khan Sherwani from Los Angeles

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

I also agree with what is written.
Adeel Khan Sherwani from Nashville

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Thanx 4 Shearing with us…
Adeel Khan Sherwani from Seattle

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Thanx 4 Shearing with us…
Adeel Khan Sherwani from Las Vegas

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

I also agree with what is written.
Adeel Khan Sherwani from Miami

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Adeel Khan Sherwani from Washington

Posted by Adeel Khan Sherwani | Report as abusive

Yes, there is a lot of Pakistani who love India because there are many people that left their homeland in India and want at least visit there.

Secondly our roots are same, religion separate us but basically we belongs to the same land and origin.

We have to realize our actual problems not the secondary issues.The problems of both sides are same, poverty, health, education, corruption ……

Posted by Abrar Ahmad | Report as abusive

A friend of mine is selected by SAF for Madanjeet Singh scholarship and granted an admission in Asian College of Journalism, Chennai for her postgrad in Print media and still facing a big delay in visa. SAF Pakistan is working at its best and talking to higher up am sure but then things are stuck..dont know where :(

Pray for his visa everyone!

Posted by Sheikh Haroon | Report as abusive

Yeah, well can anyone tell me if there are indian spies who spy on pakistanis as soon as they land bharat… I got the visa for delhi and I really wana visit lucknow but I didn’t get the visa for it, if i go by train will i get caught and face severe punishment???? I heard there are many spies who spy on pakistanis and stuff.. leme know so I can think twice before i make a move 😉

Posted by abdul | Report as abusive

[…] direction, leaving homes and some family members behind in India, before the curtain dropped. Thinking the unthinkable: visa-free travel between India and Pakistan | Pakistan: Now or Never? Thats just the first step in making indian people's dream of akhand bharat. […]

Posted by Imran Khan: Hear this loudly and clearly – You screwd up. | Report as abusive