Part One. Perhaps this is why Pakistan is in such a mess…?
Reports are pouring in about death, maim, unimaginable anguish and heartbreak for peoples of Pakistan and Leh, going through devastating flooding and mud slides that have cost so many lives and destroyed so much. Even though it is Ramadhan, I cannot sit still; as head of an organization dedicated to try and help in exactly such disasters, I am on the move; I make plans to fly to Leh via New Delhi (only possible air route), obtain a visa visa to Pakistan in the process. I call Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi; the person in charge of visas tells me if I can bring a letter from US Consulate in Mumbai (I am a US citizen), Pakistan High Commission will grant me the visa. Next day, I visit the US Consulate and they give me a generic letter stating there is no objection in me visiting Pakistan.
New Delhi is a mess, hot and sticky with traffic so messed up in preparation of the (un)Commonwealth Games now so much in disrepute, I feel the city will need genuine miracles for the games to commence. The Pakistan High Commission is about an hour from the airport and I reach it after some trouble; the rickshaw driver a little upset I don’t know the exact location. The place is heavily fortified and I reach the visa counter after having being carefully scrutinized by different sets of armed security men. I find myself to be the only one in line; a pleasant surprise. The widow that separates me from the person inside in similarly fortified with steel bars, the glass pane is one sided, I cannot see anything or anyone inside except the balding head of a person bent on reading something. Hello, I say in greeting; the bald head does not move. Hello!!! I shout a little too loudly. The bald head rises ever so slowly and a set of eyes regard me in irritation. Bolo, kya hai, says invisible lips for I cannot see anything except the man’s eyes; I feel very uncomfortable, feels I am talking to somebody in a neqaab. I explain my reasons for a visa and slide my passport and other papers through a slot to him; the head falls again and I am exposed to a barren pate once more.
The head stays down for a while and I seriously feel the guys fallen asleep when he pushes the papers back towards me and the eyes reappear. Sorry, I cannot grant you a visa. The letter from US Consulate is not specifically asking us to issue you a visa. I am stunned, unable to speak for quite a few seconds during which the head falls back again and I am exposed to white pink scalp once more. I swear, had that window been open, I would have slapped that thing silly; it would give me immense satisfaction. I protest verbally instead; loudly. Window Number One , says the bowed head and I am dismissed.
Feeling bruised and smarting from the insults and brush off, I go looking for Window Number One which turns out to be the main entrance for Consular Section. I explain my predicament to a more sympathetic male attendant who rings for somebody and I am met with assistant Consular Kamal. Kamal is an emaciated, well groomed polite young man, with a thin face and a wobbly Adams apple that seems to have a mind of its own. The man has very little to say; he mainly listens to me, takes my documents and advised me to call him in about three hours; he will discuss the merit of my case with the Consular and let me know. Ah, there is hope, so I return to the airport and check into a nearby hotel.
I call Kamal three hours later and I am told he is out of the office, call back. I call back five times; Kamal is either not in his seat or busy. I fret; he has my most important documents and being Ramadhan, the Commission offices close at three and I am flying out of Delhi very early tomorrow. When I finally get to him, he is abrupt, not so polite. You please go to the US and apply your visa from there; they happy to give you a visa, not possible from New Delhi. You are a US citizen, not Indian. Instinctively, I go on the defensive, but… but you guys promised, I am a US national but I live in India, I have given you my resident permit, I have come all the way from Mumbai for this, it makes no sense for me to fly all the way to the US just to get a visa…. There is a pause; I can just hear Kamal breathing at the end of the line; I am so mad I could just reach out and strangle that Adams apple that must be dancing away at the end of the line. After what seems to be an entirety, he speaks, You wait, commands Kamal, you talk to the Consul.
There are clicks and humming at the other end; I despair the line will be cut off. India, you see, has very good cell phone technology but woeful land lines, as stable as Kamals Adams apple. A commanding, crisp voice, not unlike an Englishman with a stiff upper lip identifies himself as Akram, and how can he help me. I try and stay calm and relate my predicament to Akram in a pleading, emotional manner, that I am CEO of CAI, residing lawfully in India, do a lot of humanitarian work in India, Afghanistan and elsewhere and wish to go to Pakistan and possibly help there. There is a pause while Akram, I guess, digests this data. Our discussion and demeanor is straight downhill from that point, with the conversation going something like this:
Akram: Well, I understand you want to help Pakistan, but I have no authority to issue you a visa.
Me: You are the Consul General; surely you do have the authority and can make an exception for the betterment of suffering Pakistanis. Please understand I am not a visitor to India, I LIVE here so I have the same rights to a visa an Indian national would have.
Akram: Really, so you want to teach me the rules of visa issuance by Pakistan, do you?
Me: Well, it makes no sense for a resident of India to travel to the US to obtain a visit visa for Pakistan. Does that make sense to you Sir? You are in your position because you have a good education and can make an informed, rational and wise decision. I am sure you will agree with me? I’ll tell you what, you issue me that visa, only 3 days visa and I’ll donate the USD2,000 it will cost me to travel to US to get the visa (It’ll cost me much more but since I am intrinsically a Wania, might as well try save some bucks) to the flood victims of Pakistan.
Akram, after a long pause: Well, that is very generous of you, but no, you will have to go to the USA and Pakistan will be happy to grant you a visa. I am sorry I can’t help you. I will have your documents waiting for you at the reception, please pick them up.
Me, with my blood pressure at unprecedented high levels: Can I appeal your decision? Is there anyone else that you report to that I can talk to, anyone else who can help me, who has the authority to grant me the visa?
Akram, with a mocking laugh in his voice: Not even Obama.
The line goes dead. Oh, I am so frustrated and disappointed, I could cry. I take a rickshaw to the High Commission with a heavy heart and my lungs filled with New Delhi motor vehicle fumes. The receptionist hands me my documents with a kind sympathetic expression on his face. I return to the hotel and wait for very early tomorrow for my flight to Leh. Ya Allah, I tried; I tried very, very hard.
Next stop Leh…to be continued.