The Ministry of External Affairs has barred Pakistani academicians from attending a seminar organised by the Association for Asian Studies and Ashoka University in New Delhi in July.

The Association for Asian Studies, since 2014, holds an annual conference called AAS in Asia to hold panel discussions among scholars from various parts of Asia. While the previous conferences were held in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, this year the event will be held at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi between July 5 and July 8.

In a letter to Ashoka University dated February 19, the Ministry of External Affairs had explicitly told the organisers not to include Pakistani scholars at the event. “The ministry has no objection from the political angle for the proposed event with foreign participants (except participants from Pakistan), as stated in your aforesaid communication, subject to the clearance of Ministry of Home Affairs as applicable and nodal ministry,” the letter read.

The MEA further repeated its stance in the letter: “Kindly note this ministry does not recommend participation from Pakistan in the proposed event.”

‘Not in tune with the purpose of the conference’

The Association for Asian Studies and Ashoka University, in a statement on Friday, said they regretted the government’s decision. “The fact that the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India has decided to deny visas to Pakistani scholars [including scholars of Pakistani origin who are citizens of other countries] to attend the AAS-in-Asia conference in Delhi is not in tune with the open exchange of ideas and knowledge that is the very purpose of the conference,” the organisers said.

It further said: “However, neither the Association for Asian Studies nor Ashoka University has the authority to tell the Government of India, a sovereign nation, to whom it may and may not grant visas, and nor have we been able to influence the Government of India to reverse its decision in this case.”

The organisers said they had informed the affected delegates in March, have refunded their registration fees and suggested arranging for them to present their papers in the conference via Skype.

An independent researcher, Annie Zaman, is the only Pakistani participant who had registered for the conference and was scheduled to speak on Balochistan’s secessionist movement on July 6, according to The Wire. She said she received an email from the organisers saying it would be futile for her to apply for a visa as the Indian Embassy was most likely to not sanction it.

MEA’s response

When asked about the government’s restrictions on Pakistani scholars, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said there are several factors that go into participation of any individual or country in a conference or a seminar.

“One major consideration which goes into before taking any decision, which of course includes the inputs we get from various agencies...a very important input is the state of relationship,” Kumar told reporters, according to PTI. “If the state of relationship is good and positive, then these things are very smooth and free-flowing, and if you have a relationship which is not very smooth, then of course there are due diligence and all these things come into play. Participation by Pakistan or any other country is a reflection of the current state of the relationship between India and that country.”