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    India's Visa Issues for English Cricketers Indicate a Longstanding Security Divide with Pakistan
India's Visa Issues for English Cricketers Indicate a Longstanding Security Divide with Pakistan
Shoaib Bashir. Source: GeoSuper

India's Visa Issues for English Cricketers Indicate a Longstanding Security Divide with Pakistan

Security Concerns Impacting Cricket Relations

Shoaib Bashir, a young cricket player from England, arrived in Hyderabad just in time to witness the team's impressive and unexpected victory against an Indian side known for being unbeatable on their home ground. Bashir, a 20-year-old spin bowler, had surprised many when he was selected for the team in January. However, he missed the first Test match due to a delay in his Indian visa.

This issue with visas is not unique to Bashir. Other English cricketers with Pakistani heritage, such as Moeen Ali and Saqib Mahmood, as well as Australian batsman Usman Khawaja, have also experienced visa problems when visiting India. In fact, Khawaja had to wait for 24 hours before joining his teammates for a tour in February 2023. 

Cricket fans greets Pakistani team in India. Source: ESPNcricinfo
Cricket fans greets Pakistani team in India. Source: ESPNcricinfo

During the cricket World Cup held in India in October 2023, the Pakistani team Kimfaced delays in obtaining visas, while Pakistani fans and journalists were effectively prevented from attending the tournament. This restriction on journalists and fans seems to reflect the strained relationship between India and Pakistan. However, the difficulties faced by overseas players of Pakistani origin indicate a long-standing Indian suspicion towards visitors with Pakistani roots, which has some justification.

The background to this suspicion can be traced back to the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, where terrorists from the Pakistan-based organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), in collaboration with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), orchestrated the attacks. It is worth noting that one of the operatives responsible for conducting reconnaissance for the attacks was an American citizen of Pakistani origin named David Headley, who had concealed his Pakistani roots in his visa application and managed to visit India multiple times.

In response to these security concerns, the Indian Home Ministry decided to tighten visa requirements in 2009. Since then, all visa applications from individuals with Pakistani roots have been subjected to vetting and clearance by the ministry, a process that can take up to 90 days.

Some observers criticise this move as "racist" and a violation of human rights laws in the UK, Europe, and internationally. Others view it as a form of "collective punishment" often seen in South Asia. The US and UK governments protested against India's decision to tighten visa rules, but India stood firm, asserting its right to deny visas as it sees fit.

One reason why Western governments may have been unable to exert pressure on India regarding this issue is their failure to adequately address India's concerns about counterterrorism in the past. For example, Headley, aside from being a LeT operative, was also an agent of the US government's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), leading Indian security agencies to believe that US intelligence could have done more to prevent the Mumbai attacks.

Similarly, the UK's response to India's security concerns regarding British Pakistanis was seen as unsympathetic. Indian intelligence officials' requests to monitor suspected British Pakistanis received inadequate responses from their British counterparts.

In response to international pressure to exercise restraint after the attacks, the Manmohan Singh government implemented several defensive counterterrorism measures, including the new visa rules. Despite the issue of cross-border terrorism, India-Pakistan relations remained active.

Hands reaching across borders in a gesture of cooperation and collaboration. Source: Midjourney
Hands reaching across borders in a gesture of cooperation and collaboration. Source: Midjourney

Neighbourhood policy

Following Modi's rise to power in 2014, despite his Hindu nationalist reputation, his administration took peaceful initiatives in the subsequent years in line with India's "neighbourhood-first policy." This policy aimed to foster collaboration and business ventures across South Asia, with a particular emphasis on cultivating stronger interpersonal connections.

However, in light of ongoing terrorist attacks originating from Pakistan, India adopted a more assertive approach, focusing on targeting terrorist bases within Pakistan. Consequently, a new motto gained popularity among Indian government circles: "terror and talks cannot coexist." In August 2019, India revoked Article 370, which permitted the division of the disputed region of Kashmir into two centrally administered provinces: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. This move provoked dissatisfaction from the Pakistani government, which believed it should have been consulted. In response, Pakistan declared that any future security cooperation would be contingent upon India's reinstatement of Article 370. Since then, bilateral relations between the two nations have come to a complete standstill.

Considering the high probability of Modi securing victory in April, it is improbable that the visa complications for Pakistanis or individuals with Pakistani heritage from Western countries will cease in the near future.

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