NEW DELHI - Seeking closer ties through a sustained dialogue process and a step by step approach to resolve outstanding issues, India and Pakistan are likely to sign a ‘liberalised visa agreement’ when their home secretaries meet in Islamabad next month, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said on Wednesday.

Krishna was speaking at the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian parliament) on the April 8 daylong visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to India, during which he met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over lunch.

“The two leaders (Manmohan Singh and Zardari) felt that priority needed to be given to issues of people-to-people contacts. In this context, they decided that a liberalised visa agreement, which has (already) been worked out, should be signed during the next meeting of the home/interior secretaries,” Krishna said.

The home secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, in the pipeline since December last, are likely to take place in Islamabad by the end of May.

The Indian Home Ministry sources said Islamabad had been asked to give fresh dates for the talks - sometime after May 22 when the on-going budget session of parliament ends.

The sources said easier travel and visa procedures were aimed at boosting trade ties so that businesspersons from the two countries travel without hassles and do business.

The proposal also includes non-business visas for divided families, particularly for those aged over 65 years, and for those wanting to attend marriages and funerals. Krishna said Zardari and Manmohan held around a 40-minute-long meeting for friendly and constructive discussions covering India-Pakistan relations, regional and global issues of common interest.

“The two leaders noted that there had been steady progress in the bilateral dialogue process which was resumed last year. The dialogue process will continue as planned in the months to come.” Krishna said Manmohan appreciated the fact that Pakistan had moved forward in trade-related issues. “Both leaders felt that we should tap into the considerable potential of bilateral economic and trade ties for progress and prosperity.

The issue has been discussed by the commerce ministers of the two countries and there is a way forward which has already been identified.”

Krishna was apparently referring to Islamabad’s in principle agreement on granting most favoured nation status to India that would allow Indian businesses to export nearly 6,000 trade items as against less than 2,000 items currently.

The minister said Manmohan raised the issue of terrorism and the ‘anti-India’ activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed from Pakistani soil. “It would be evident that our concerns on terrorism had to be addressed if the people of India are to support and sustain progress in bilateral relations.”

Krishna said Zardari referred to judicial process against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attack and Saeed. Home secretaries, he said, would be discussing the issue further.

The minister said Zardari and Manmohan Singh felt that the two nations need to move forward step by step and find pragmatic solutions to the bilateral territorial disputes, including Sir Creek, Siachen and Kashmir.

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