Liberalised visa agreement signed between India and Pakistan
Islamabad: India and Pakistan have signed a new visa regime which will facilitate simpler travel for people across the border. The new pact, signed between External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik, replaces the old visa regime that was signed in 1974, and will pave the way for time-bound visa approval and greater people-to-people contacts and boost trade.
The new visa agreement will benefit people of both the countries as it will facilitate multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for businessmen, allowing them to visit five cities instead of three as is the case at present.
It will also exempt elderly people from reporting to the police, thus allowing common people from either country to visit three earmarked cities instead of one and introducing a visa-on-arrival facility at Wagah for senior citizens aged above 65 and children.
While there was no time-frame for issuance of non-diplomatic visas earlier, the new pact says that a visa has to be issued within 45 days of application.
Under the visitor visa category, earlier, only single entry visa used to be issued for three months for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purpose. Now, a single entry visa is to be issued for six months but the stay should not exceed three months at a time.
For the first time, group tourism too has figured as a part of the new pact. The new Group Tourist visa will be issued for not less than 10 people and not more than 50 people. This visa will be valid for 30 days and will have to be applied through tour operators, registered by the two governments. The Group Tourist visa facility will also be available to students of educational institutions of both countries. However, this will be a tourist visa only and not for seeking admission in educational institutions of either country.
The new visa agreement was supposed to be signed in May during the Home/Interior Secretary-levels talks held in Islamabad, but got postponed after Pakistan said it wanted to sign at political level.
The visa agreement was signed shortly after the meeting between Mr Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. The one-on-one meeting between Mr Krishna and Ms Khar was expected to focus on the issue of terrorism, with New Delhi likely to take up the case of slow progress in the 26/11 trial. But official sources had told NDTV that visa and other border issues too would feature prominently in the discussions.
Speaking to NDTV, on the eve of the foreign ministers' talks, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik hailed the proposed visa agreement as a "historic move", adding that the pact would greatly help in cross-border movement.
But when questioned on the issue of terrorism, Mr Malik said that India shouldn't go on about the slow pace of the 26/11 trial, saying that Pakistan too could say the same about the Samjhauta blasts case.
The 26/11 trial had dominated discussions between the foreign secretaries of both nations on the eve of the talks today. The two, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani, were also present in the meeting today.
This is Mr Krishna's second visit to Pakistan in over two years.
On Friday, he had also met President Asif Ali Zardari, appealing for mercy for Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh. India got consular access to Sarabjit yesterday. Sources say that President Zardari has promised to look into the case.
Liberalised visa agreement signed between India and Pakistan | NDTV.com