Ten days passed and word came back from the military attache, that we were to go to the visa office, downtown Islamabad, and Mr Muktar Saeed was our man. It was thought wise that I should wear a collar and tie and jacket and my wife should dress formally too.
When we had applied to the Pakistani Embassy visa office in London when planning our trip, we ticked ‘double entry’ on the form. Our passports came back stamped for single entry only. I had ‘phoned the embassy and explained. ‘Not a problem,’ the polite official assured me. ‘When you get to Pakistan go to a visa office and they’ll give you a visa for a second entry.’ Simple as that, but not quite.
We recounted this when we arrived with family in Islamabad. My cousin’s wife, herself Pakistani, smiled. Nothing was quite as simple as that in Pakistan she explained and with two weeks in hand she started to work right away. Her first move was not to send us to the visa office in the morning. Her late father had been a famous Pakistani General, so she contacted a friend of his, a military attaché at the Secretariat of the Chief Executive, the country’s Military Dictator. Meanwhile we completed visa applications that she then had delivered to the Visa Office.
We arrived at Mr Saeed’s office where he sat behind a large desk on the polished surface of which there was a telephone, a blotter, a calendar and not one piece of paper. There was a hat stand and some chairs and a carpet covered the centre of the floor. Mr Saeed was expecting us. He stood up, shook hands with me, welcomed us graciously and enquired kindly if we were having a good holiday. He then spoke briefly on the telephone and told us that the gentleman at the door would bring us to Mr Aziz who would look after us.
As we sat waiting in Mr Aziz’s crowded public office it was clear that he was a man of consequence. He sat at a desk inspecting papers, signing chits and handing them to applicants without a word. Other unfortunates received no chits, but rather an angry lecture or an abrupt dismissal. Mr Aziz was not a man to be taken for granted. Eventually our turn came. We stood beside his desk while he examined our applications, and I had the feeling that he was going to show these foreigners what an important man he was, and that issuing a visa to them was far from a formality.
Avoiding the inference that he was misreading our applications, it took us a little time to point out to him, diplomatically, that we were not applying for an extension to our visas to stay longer, but rather for new visas to re-enter Pakistan. He then rooted in a bottom drawer, pulled out a thick manual of regulations and thumbed through the pages, eventually stopping to read. He stood up suddenly and said:‘There is no letter from the Interior Ministry. Follow me.’
We followed him back to Mr Saeed’s office, where we were again received graciously and invited to sit down, while Mr Aziz, speaking animatedly in Urdu, pointed to his book of rules. Mr Saeed then said calmly in English: But they are not tourists, they are visiting family.’ We followed Mr Aziz back to his desk and stood in silence awaiting his decision. ‘Your visas will be ready on Friday morning.’ We thanked him and left.
We were due to catch a train to Lahore from Rawalpindi on Friday afternoon at 4.00pm. We had been reconciled to the possibility that our re-entry visas would not be ready in time. Friday, mid-morning, at the visa office Mr Aziz gave us our chit, but before our passports could be stamped, we had to go into the city centre to a particular bank to lodge the fee. When we returned the visa office was closed for lunch. We queued again and presented our receipt. Half an hour later we had our visas.
Through chaotic city traffic we set out for the station at Rawalpindi and caught our train to Lahore with only minutes to spare. We had achieved what we had planned would be one of the highlights of our holiday – a visit to the Indian city of Amritzar to see the golden Temple of the Sikhs.