India says no to Pakistani pilgrims


The Indian government has said no to a request from Pakistan to allow over 150 zaireen (pilgrims) to visit a shrine in Agra.
The government seemed unconvinced about the purpose of the visit as this was apparently the first time Pakistan zaireen had shown any interest in visiting the shrine in large numbers. The organising committee at the shrine itself raised questions about the motive for the visit, a report in Times of India said on Sunday.
The pilgrims wanted to participate in the urs of Hafiz Abdullah Shah from February 3 to 10. It is learnt that the decision to deny them permission to visit the shrine was based on inputs received from local authorities, including the organizing committee for the urs.
The organising committee refused to play host to the pilgrims informing Indian authorities, including the local administration that it was not in a position to receive them or provide for their comfort at the shrine.
They also said that no member of the committee extended an invitation to anybody in Pakistan to participate in the urs and there has not been any tradition of such large number of zaireen from Pakistan participating in the annual event.
The shrine located in Agra figures in the list of shrines in the 1974 bilateral protocol but has not received Pakistani pilgrims.
Separately, tourists travelling to India from up to 180 countries will no longer have to queue up at their local consulates to obtain visas under reforms expected to be approved this week, local media reported on Sunday.
Most foreigners currently have to wait several weeks before learning whether they will be allowed to enter the country after submitting their applications at visa processing centres, a major deterrent for potential visitors.
But India’s intelligence agencies have now given their backing to proposals that would allow tourists to apply online and then wait only three days before receiving the green light.
They would then be able to pick up their visas on arrival at any airport.
India currently issues visas on arrival to visitors from about a dozen foreign nations, including Japan and Indonesia.
But visitors from countries which account for the bulk of its tourists – such as the United States, Britain and France – have to go through the time-consuming process of applying in person.
The reforms were first mooted last October but only for around 40 countries.
The citizens of a handful of countries, including Pakistan, will not be included in the changes, the report read.
Despite its cultural attractions, beaches and mountains, India attracts relatively few foreign holidaymakers – 6.58 million in 2012, which was about a quarter of Thailand or Malaysia.
A final decision on the visa reforms is likely to be taken on Wednesday at a meeting to be attended by the country’s top intelligence officers.
No one from the Interior Ministry was immediately available for comment.