When Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf meet in Agra, one elemental item should be on their agenda: travel between India and Pakistan. The India-Pakistan travel regime—the rules and conventions governing how we can legally visit each other—is confounding and enervating.
Can and should anything be done about the travel nightmare? A lot can be done, but only if the Indian and Pakistani governments are convinced that something should be done. The standard operating procedure of both governments is to be unhelpful and tedious. Why so? Why is letting in ordinary Indians or Pakistanis so dangerous?
There are two basic lines of thought among government (read intelligence) officials on this. The first is that a more liberal travel regime will allow all kinds of nasty subversives from the other side to come in under the guise of the ordinary tourists. The second argument is liberal travel rewards the enemy. Why let the citizens of the other side enjoy your hospitality when their government is trying to bring you down? Since we all get the governments we deserve, we're all implicated in their acts and can't claim innocence.
Neither argument is terribly convincing. Terrorists and other subversives typically don't depend on entry permits to commit their vile acts. Denying them visas will slow them down to be sure, but not much more. Denying a lot of innocent people visas has to be balanced against the gains of delaying a terrorist or two. In whatever way you do your sums, it doesn't add up. The goodwill of thousands of ordinary Pakistanis is worth more than complicating the travel plans of a spy or a terrorist.
Nor does the second argument bear much scrutiny. We don't always get the governments we deserve; sometimes they ride to power...