ISLAMABAD – Pakistan and India Saturday carried the process of normalisation of their relation a sure step further by inking a new visa regime and by exploring the possibilities of broadening their ties through seriously scanning all the contentious issues at the foreign ministers’ meeting.
Thanks to the new visa policy, the most concrete outcome of the latest rendezvous, senior citizens in Pakistan and India can now walk across the border between the two countries and need not go through the hassles of getting a visa from embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad.
At a joint press conference after their talks, both Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Indian counterpart reiterated the commitment to remain positively engaged for resolution of all the bilateral issues and stressed that the relationship should not be held hostage to the past.
Hina said that Pakistan was willing to take forward its bilateral ties with India. She said, “Pakistan sends a very, very strong message that it is willing to forge ahead in the relationship with India... We will move forward... We will not be held hostage to history.” The foreign minister said, “We must learn from the past and not miss any more opportunities. Pakistan is committed not to lose any opportunities. Pakistan is committed to creating new opportunities.”
Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna responded by saying that there was desire of people on both sides to resolve all issues and “we are committed to moving forward to write a new chapter in our relationship”. Krishna opined that both countries must set their sights on the future, saying: “Let us walk the talk together... Let us not look back as you (Hina) have rightly said; let us not be held hostage to whatever has happened earlier. I think we will have to keep our sight to the future.”
Pakistani foreign minister on the occasion also announced to release all Indian fishermen in its jails as a goodwill gesture during Krishna’s visit. She said all Indian fishermen who have completed their jail terms and those who are still serving it will be released immediately. Krishna thanked the Pakistan government for this “wonderful gesture” and said “I hope their boats and trawlers are also released.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik from Pakistani side and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna from Indian side signed the new visa agreement. Under the new visa regime that eases restrictions on visitors from both the countries, senior citizens, aged 65 and above, will be granted 45-day visas on arrival at the Wagha and Attari border respectively. There was no such provision available previously but now “the senior citizens can visit the other country easily now,” a source said here.
The new visa regime will see several other changes aimed at easing the visa regime. There will be a single-entry visitor visa for a maximum period of six months but the stay cannot exceed three months at a time and for five places (previously limited to three places).
Group tourist visas, for groups of 10-50 people, has also been introduced for the first time. This will also be available for students provided they do not seek admission in the other country. Also, business visa has been separated from visitor visa, a communique said. The business visa will have to be issued within five weeks.
People aged more than 65, children below 12 and eminent businessmen are also exempted from police reporting. Another simplified rule will allow people to enter and exit from different check posts and change their mode of travel. This was not permitted earlier. “However, this is subject to the exception that exit from Wagah/Attari, by road (on foot) cannot be accepted, unless the entry was also by foot via Attari/Wagah,” said a communique issued here.
Under a new category, a visitor visa for a maximum of five specified places may be issued for a longer period of up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (above 65); spouse of a national of one country married to person of another country and children below 12 accompanying parent(s). Also, transit visa will now be issued within 36 hours instead of 72 hours.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who held talks with Krishna earlier in the day, said at the press conference, “We need to develop a future that is people centric, development centric… and is in the economic interest and future of the two countries.” She said, “Pakistan has every intention to keep its commitment,” she said, adding there is an “immense potential to normalise Indo-Pak relations”.
On the liberalised visa agreement signed today, Hina said it is only a first step in easing out travel restrictions. Hina also mentioned the Pakistani decision to release all Indian fishermen who are being held in Pakistani jails even after completing their sentences.
Over 80 Indian fishermen were in Pakistani jails while some 120 Pakistani fishermen were in Indian jails. Last month, Pakistan freed 55 Indian fishermen as a “goodwill gesture” on the occasion of India’s Independence Day.
The foreign minister said the two nations will also see trade normalisation by the end of this year, implying Pakistan will treat traders from India like any other nation. “We have invested a great deal in this relationship over 65 years. We are today confident that there’s a deep commitment from both the sides to look at this relationship through a different lens,” Hina noted.
She however raked up the Kashmir issue, saying simultaneous progress is needed on all tracks, including issues of Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. “What is doable or not doable is determined by the level of political will,” the foreign minister said, adding the aspirations of Kashmiri citizens must be accommodated.
Krishna on his part said the discussions today were cordial, frank and productive. Krishna said during Saturday’s talks, “both India and Pakistan agreed that terrorism posed continuing threat to peace and reaffirmed our commitment to fight it effectively... The Pakistani side reiterated its commitment to bring to justice all perpetrators of Mumbai attack expeditiously, in accordance with due process of law.”
In response to a question, Krishna said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never put conditions on his visit to Pakistan. “The visit will take place at the appropriate time, when the atmosphere is conducive and something worthwhile could come out of the talks,” he said. He however did not give a firm commitment on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit but reiterated that the PM was not “shying away” from visiting Pakistan.
On being asked to comment on the hardline position taken by India on Kashmir, Krishna said, “India has always believed that a step by step approach will take this relationship forward. You can’t expect in one meeting issues that have been bugging us for six decades will be resolved.” Krishna said talks on Siachen and Sircreek were continued and “we want phase to phase improvement” in these matters as well.
However, both countries agreed to resolve all the outstanding issues between them through dialogue. In the joint communiqué, they agreed to fight jointly against terrorists and disarm those elements who spread hatred between both the countries. Both the neighbours agreed to continue measures for trust building both side of the Line of Control.
Hina in the press conference said that both the counties missed several opportunities for peace. She said that Pakistan and India should learn lesson lessons from the history and they won’t become hostage to the history. She said that Pakistan’s relations with India would be normalised by the end of this year.