India and Pakistan pulled back Wednesday from the precipice of yet another setback to bilateral ties with the two countries approving the pending assignment visas for diplomats and other staff members after two years of strife over the issue.
Precipice because India had already started to pull out its staff members from Islamabad, as Pakistan delayed visas to their replacements, when the two countries finally arrived at an agreement to resolve the issue, as reported by TOI on June 6.
The visa approvals were granted by both countries simultaneously here and in Islamabad on Wednesday through an exchange of passports.
The development will allow the Indian and Pakistani missions, at least for the time being, to function normally as per the sanctioned strength after ties were downgraded last year and is also perhaps a sign that the two countries don’t want ties to deteriorate further.
The visa approvals will allow about 25-30 Indian officials to join work in Islamabad. India too granted visas to many Pakistani officials in response. Both countries had accused each other of delaying visas to these officials. Barring a couple of occasions, Pakistan apparently had not been issuing visas to Indian officials for two years.
An assignment visa allows diplomats and foreign government officials to perform their duties on behalf of their national governments. All decisions on assignment visas are based on reciprocity, or lack thereof. While India and Pakistan have not seen any significant bilateral engagement since December 2015, the situation worsened with Pakistan’s international campaign against India after the latter revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
Pakistan recalled its high commissioner following that development and India last year asked Islamabad to halve its mission strength, from 110 to 55, accusing Pakistan and its officials of supporting cross-border violence and terrorism. India has also continued to maintain that Pakistan must shun terror to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue.
The year 2021 though has seen a buzz about back channel talks, involving none other than NSA Ajit Doval and ISI chief Faiz Hameed, after the DGsMO agreed in a joint statement in February to observe the ceasefire understanding and address each other’s concerns.
Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa apparently told a group of Pakistani journalists that the two had even met in Dubai ahead of the ceasefire announcement. However, while the ceasefire thaw was expected to be followed with a decision to restore diplomatic ties, the situation on the ground didn’t seem to change with the two countries unable until now to resolve even the assignment visa issue.