India, Pakistan to sign 'liberalised' visa agreement
Seeking closer ties through a sustained talks process and a step by step approach to solve outstanding issues, India and Pakistan are likely to sign a "liberalised visa agreement" when their home secretaries meet in Islamabad next month, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said on Wednesday.
Krishna was speaking in the Lok Sabha on the April 8 daylong visit of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to India during which he met 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 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 place in Islamabad by the end of May. Home ministry sources said Islamabad has been asked to give fresh dates for the talks - sometime after May 22 when the ongoing 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 Manmohan Singh and Zardari met for about 40 minutes 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 that the prime minister appreciated "the fact" that Pakistan has moved forward in trade-related issues.
Both leaders, he said, 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 to that country as against less than 2,000 items currently.
The minister said that Manmohan Singh raised the issue of terrorism and the anti-India activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Haafiz 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 processes 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.