The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday constituted a high-level committee to discuss the visa policy for Pakistani sports enthusiasts for five ODIs starting from December 25. Sources said India is likely to issue 5,000 visas to Pakistani spectators under strict guidelines as many Pakistani tourists did not return home after watching the matches in the past and have gone underground.
“The high-level committee in its first meeting on Monday will frame the visa guidelines for cricket fans. It will decide whether to allow the clearance for one match or for multiple matches. The committee will also finalise the modalities to coordinate with governments of West Bengal, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and on all security-related issues at the venues and how to ensure foolproof security during the matches,” sources said.
An official of the MHA said it was not yet clear if the government would execute the liberalised visa regime for the upcoming Indo-Pak series but they would look into it keeping the security aspects in mind.
The liberalised visa regime signed between the two neighbours facilitates easy access to large group of tourists, senior citizens and children who can travel up to five cities on a single clearance. Group Tourist visa will be issued for 10 to 50 people for a validity period of 30 days. The new accord also extends visa on arrival service at Attari and Wagah border if they are travelling by road. While India had cleared the new policy in April 2012, the Pak Cabinet gave its approval only on Wednesday.
Sources said many Pakistani nationals who arrived on tourists visa to watch cricket match in the past didn’t return and may had been used by terror groups for reconnaissance of target locations.
“This is a major cause of concern and the committee constituted by the MHA will discuss this aspect threadbare. Out of five venues - Chennai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad, three locations - Bangalore, Delhi and Ahmedabad were earlier targeted by Pak-based terror groups,” sources said.
Lashkar-e-Taiba operative and a key handler of 26/11 Mumbai attacks Abu Jundal had recently revealed that two LeT terrorists Sajid Mir, close aide of LeT military commander Zaki-ur-rehman Lakhvi, and Major Abdurrehman landed on a tourist visa in 2005 and carried out recce of important locations in Mumbai and Delhi. Another LeT operative David Headley had told NIA during interrogation in 2011 that many LeT terrorists had carried out recce of vital installations including, National Defence College (NDC), during the Indo-Pak cricket match in Delhi.
“Intelligence agencies data reveals that over 24,000 Pakistanis have gone underground while visiting India between 2009-2011. So while cricket matches between the two nations are important for healthy relationship, the security angle cannot be ignored,” sources added.