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India, Pak agree to ease visa curbs
On PMs visit, Delhi says Islamabad must build right atmosphere first and bring 26/11 guilty to justice
KV Prasad
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, September 8
Expanding on a four-decade existing visa system, India and Pakistan today announced a liberal regime that envisages easier group and business travel, visa on arrival for senior citizens and flexible travel mode. Islamabad also expressed keen desire to have Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visit the country.

The visa agreement signed by External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Interior Minister Rehman Malik at the end of Foreign Minister level engagement improves upon the 1974 agreement, stipulating a time-frame for issuing it.

From the earlier indefinite time taken to issue a visa, the two missions have now been given 45-day window to decide on an application. While visas will continue to be city-specific, its reach has been extended from three to five cities in one visit. Those visiting Pakistan can now enter and exit the country from different check posts and change the mode of travel as against existing rule that the port of entry and exit had to be the same, and mode of transport could not be changed.

The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding on culture.

Pakistan also announced it would release 81 fishermen who have either completed their sentence or undergoing one, to mark the visit of Krishna, who requested Islamabad also to release the trawlers and boats of these people.

Addressing a joint press conference, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabanni Khar sought to underscore that Islamabad was eager to work and move the pieces forward on issues of "convergence'' rather than play upon the "divergences", while India re-emphasised the importance of addressing its concerns on terrorism and bringing to justice the perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. She insisted that relations between the two countries could not be held hostage to history.

Even though Khar failed to mention "terrorism" during her long opening statement, Krishna said the joint statement clearly underlined Pakistan's commitment to bringing all perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously as per due process of law. Islamabad had made the commitment during the Home Secretary-level talks during May this year.

The Pakistan side sought to underscore that at the same talks, India had conveyed that investigation in the Samjhauta Express blast case would be shared with Pakistan through diplomatic channels after probe is completed.

On the probable visit of Dr Manmohan Singh, the External Affairs Minister said while a right atmosphere was needed, there were no conditions attached to make it happen. However, such a visit requires a lot of groundwork and fixing in the schedule that are drawn up months in advance.

On her part, Khar hoped that India would push the envelope on outstanding issues like Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. Krishna later mentioned that the Prime Minister had on many occasions mentioned that India was not shying away from discussing Kashmir.

The two sides also agreed to convene a separate meeting of the expert groups on nuclear and conventional confidence building measures in New Delhi during the second half of December this year to promote peace and security.

Both Ministers also heard reports of progress by the Joint Commission with the working group on information decided to organize film festivals in each other's countries, seminar and workshops between Indian Institute of Mass Communication and suitable Pakistani institute, and news exchange between official news agencies and television and radio programmes as areas of possible future cooperation.





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