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FEUD BETWEEN PAKISTAN, INDIA MAKES VISAS SCARCE

SHARE FEUD BETWEEN PAKISTAN, INDIA MAKES VISAS SCARCE

More than a hundred people spending the night on a sidewalk in the embassy district aren't protesters or homeless people. They're Muslims trying to get a Pakistani visa to visit relatives, ones they sometimes haven't seen in decades.

When India-Pakistan relations are at a low point - as they are now - the wait grows longer.In the past week, each country has expelled one of the other's diplomats on charges of spying. On Monday, Pakistan shut down the Indian consulate in Karachi, closing the main avenue for Pakistanis who want to visit relatives in India.

The squatters outside the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi give a human face to the diplomatic battle.

Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have refused to accept any tourists from each others' countries since they were partitioned in 1947, when Britain left South Asia.

A year ago, relations got even worse. The two countries drastically reduced the number of visas they gave out, and Pakistan stretched out the application process from about two days to more than six months.

As a result, many Muslims sleep outside the Pakistani embassy in the posh Chanakyapuri neighborhood, hoping to be first in line in the morning.

"I just don't understand why this is happening," said Salim Malik, standing in a crowd outside the embassy's visa window.

"When I went to see my sister in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1986, it took me a few hours to get my visa. This time it has taken more than eight months," he said, shaking his head.

Shakeela, who uses only one name, spent 10 nights sleeping in Nehru Park, across the street from the Pakistan embassy. She looked as if she had won the lottery when she finally got her visa.

"I got it! I got it!" she shrieked. "But the long wait has been tough on my mother-in-law and my 1-year-old son," who waited nearby.

The visa feud shows no sign of letting up. As usual, both sides blame each other for the problem.

The Indian embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said it would happily give out more visas if Pakistan would stop expelling the staff members who issue them.