Friday, 9 December 2016

Zia ul Haq won't approve Kavita's Pakistan visa application

It's worthwhile sharing the experience of getting Kavita's Pakistan visa extended because it's a real lesson in nation states, borders, colonial hang overs, and, identity. 

Kavita has visited Pakistan 4 times now. Her first visa was issued by the Pakistan Embassy in Morocco under whose jurisdiction Liberia lies. I had earlier traveled to Sénégal where my father had served as Pakistan Ambassador in the mid 90s and, confidently thought I'd combine a holiday with a visa errand. I was wrong and, they informed me that I would have to apply visa Morocco. So, I talked to my father on the telephone who put me in touch with his former colleague from our days in Dakar who told me I should write to the Ambassador in Morocco. Of course, I followed all the protocol and, sure enough, after sending off the application, Kavita's shiny American passport via DHL, the visa was issued without any hassle in a couple of weeks. Kavita received a 6-month visa. 

We came to Pakistan in 2014 and, stayed for about 8 months because ebola had caused such a crisis back in Liberia that everyone advised me to stay away. During this time, my father accompanied me to the Ministry of Interior to meet with some desk officer who helped us to get an approval letter. My father was quite nervous during this time and, tried to hush up the whole thing that Kavita's father is an Indian. We extended Kavita's visa easily. 

Then I briefly came back to Pakistan in 2015 to get my own passport renewed. I suppose I could have sent it to Morocco to get it renewed but I wanted to combine the renewal with a visit home. Kavita of course accompanied me on a valid visa.

Earlier this year, I came to Pakistan for a month and a half and, had renewed Kavita's visa by sending her passport to Morocco. 

This year, I rushed back to Islamabad on hearing about another break in at our home and, Kavita's visa would expire in a week's time. I thought I would just renew her visa while I was in Islamabad. 

The experience of renewing her visa on my own this time was an interesting one. 

When one's on holiday back home, getting up early enough and then rushing out in a mad, crazed chaos is itself an accomplishment. I hadn't bothered to refresh myself on the process. I went first to the Immigration and Passport Office in G-8. The office was actually closed but because it's Pakistan, the folks in the office itself decided to advise me. They first inspected Kavita's passport and her Pakistan visa and declared her visa was still valid. Then, they advised me to see the desk officer who also agreed but said it was better to extend her visa. He explained what to do at the Ministry of Interior: make copies of the passport, bring along passport size photos, etc, etc. He said I should go there next morning at 9 AM. 

I spent a good amount of time in F-10 Markaz making 2 sets of photocopies of any relevant documents I could find, including a copy of her ID card at Maroof Hospital. 

When I did go to the Ministry finally, I had a very hectic and frustrated morning. I specially booked an unmarked Metro Cab car because taxis aren't allowed in the complex. Did Metro Cab send me a marked taxi or a private-looking car? A taxi! So, the taxi remained parked outside while Kavita walked into the complex and made several trips up and down, sent by one desk to another. I suppose we got some good exercise but because we had left on empty stomachs (I can never accomplish breakfast, getting up on time and getting out the door on time in one go) and, I felt terrible at dragging Kavita up and down. 

The main hall at the Ministry of Interior where applicants submit and receive applications is a small one. It's packed and, there is really no sense of order. There is a desk specifically for Afghans and, then another one. When the officers arrive, they are perfectly willing to let the applicants crowd around them and then haphazardly deal with everyone. It's perfectly fine to push your way through and demand your application be looked at. So, when I presented Kavita's application, the fellow there got very intrigued that Kavita's father was Indian. He didn't look at any other part of her application and, told me to go to a fellow named Zia ul Haq who was at the India desk. Can you imagine a more apt name? 

I was a bit puzzled because I didn't remember being at any India desk when my father had brought me to the Ministry back in 2014. Anyway, I found Zia ul Haq who dismissively but politely explained to me that Kavita had a US passport which didn't mention the nationality of her father and she would need to go through a normal desk.

I went back to the main desk where of course, the fellows were no longer there and were on lunch break. It was a Friday so lunch break was an extended one and, Jumma Namaz would naturally lengthen the break. 

During this time, I decided to take a lunch break myself. Our Metro Cab was dutifully waiting outside. We rang up the driver and, he pulled up. We went to Super Market for lunch. We had some sandwiches at Cafe Rouge. I always forget that everything at Pakistani restaurants is full of mirchain and, didn't enjoy the sandwiches much. I got a couple of snacks from United Bakery for Kavita and then headed back to the Ministry. 

I went back to the main hall where of course I couldn't find the officers and the security guard advised me to go back to Zia ul Haq and, let him write on the paper that he wouldn't approve Kavita's application. This didn't help. During this walking up and down, I telephoned my father who told me he would find the relevant desk officer and, sort things out. 

The reception staff noticed me going up and down and, finally told me to go up to the 6th floor and find a certain Mushtaq Ahmed (the person who first sent me to the India desk). By this time, my father had managed to contact him through some friends at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I went up and of course Mr Ahmed met me kindly and, received my application. 

I was so relieved. 

Of course, it was a bit of a stressful and tiring process. I cursed all the names I could think of including Jinnah and Gandhi and Nehru and other figures who dreamt of modern nation states and enlisting themselves in history books. Who said Partition is over? Kaun kambakht kehta hai?

During this whole process, did anyone even notice that Kavita is hardly 4 years old, a loved child, innocent of the concepts of borders (which are invisible to begin with), and, only wants to watch cartoons? 

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