India-Pak visa row casts shadow on PM’s dream project

"Why cannot we, as seven member countries, pool our resources to create a centre of excellence, in the form of a South Asian University, which can provide world class facilities and professional faculty to students and researchers drawn from every country of our region?" — Manmohan Singh at the SAARC summit, Dhaka, 2005 Stringent visa restrictions for Pakistani nationals have cast a shadow on the Prime Minister's dream project, threatening to undermine the very premise of a temple of learning that transcends national boundaries. Over the past several months, as India and Pakistan have negotiated hard over visas for students and faculty from Pakistan, the pathbreaking South Asian University (SAU) has hobbled.

The Sunday Express has learnt that Islamabad's representatives have told the Inter-governmental Steering Committee on setting up the SAU (which is acting as the interim governing body of the university) that students and faculty members from Pakistan should be given visas that are "exempt from police reporting" and are "not city-specific" — just like citizens of other SAARC countries.

With India unwilling to grant these "waivers", the negotiations are now stalemated — and Pakistan's representatives have said they will not be part of the project if India does not yield.

SAU's first batch is scheduled to go to class in August, with Akbar Bhawan as a temporary campus. A full-fledged campus is coming up on a 100-acre land in Maidan Garhi in South Delhi, behind the IGNOU campus. A total of 3,000 students — 95 per cent of them in postgraduate and PhD programmes — and 300 faculty members have been envisaged by 2014. India will bear the capital costs, but no more than 50 per cent of students will be from India.

As per standard practice, Pakistani nationals must report to the nearest police station within 24 hours of arrival in India. Their visas are "city-specific", with a ceiling of three cities. A Pakistan citizen with a visa for Delhi cannot, for example, travel to Noida or Gurgaon. Indians visiting Pakistan are treated reciprocally.

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