Washington: Sixteen NGOs from India and Pakistan today appealed to their governments to implement the "visa on arrival" scheme for senior citizens, which has been deferred following fresh tension between the two countries.
"We ask that the two governments implement the key elements of this programme in the spirit it was designed keeping in mind the ease and assurance of travel across the border," the NGOs said in a statement.
The programme, inked in September, 2012 and operationalised in December 2012 by top ministers of two countries, provides people of age above 65 and children below 12 a visa on arrival at the Wagah border for crossing the border on foot on production of proof of identification, passport and proof of residence.
It also increased the number of cities allowed to visit from three to five and exempted the senior citizens and children under 12 from police reporting.
In absence of this programme, the senior citizens, like all other people, will continue to have to make visa applications at the respective capitals and provide numerous supporting documents, the NGOs said.
"In addition, India requires that a visitor from Pakistan obtain a sponsorship letter from their Indian relative. The requirement of Indian government that this letter be attested by a Class I government official is the stumbling block for most Pakistani visitors. An overwhelming number of applicants from both sides are denied visa without any explanation even if they provide all documents," they said in the statement.
"At the time of current escalation at the border, the soft ties and frequent people contact is critical to foster track II diplomacy. Without soft ties we will never learn to trust each other and will fall prey to radicalising forces that create even further hysteria," the statement said.
"The civil society continues to press upon their respective governments to reduce any unnecessary documentation burden and create an environment of trust. We aim for a visa regime that meets the security needs of both sides while making it easy for ordinary people to travel," the NGOs said.
Some of the prominent NGOs who issued the statement include India Pakistan Families Solidarity Association (IPFSA), Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS), Lahore National Alliance of People`s Movements (NAPM) and Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC).