Liberal visa regime on Pak-India talks agenda

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 9:00:34 by


Pakistan and India are all set to finalise major changes in their decades-old existing strict bilateral ‘visa regime during this week’s secretary-level talks, which may serve as a catalyst to normalise ties between the archrival neighbours.

To promote free trade between the nuclear powers and relax visa rules for citizens, the two countries will partake in talks between the two interior secretaries on Thursday in Islamabad.

Over two days, Interior Secretary Khawaja Siddique Akbar and his Indian counterpart home secretary RK Sindh will hammer out contentious points that remained unresolved during working group level talks in recent past.

Official sources on both sides told The Express Tribune that it was not yet clear if a compromise will be reached on all the proposals, although agreements have been chalked out on a number of points in previous low-level negotiations.

If a compromise is reached this week, the new ‘liberal visa policy’ will be operational after a meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers scheduled for July this year. The talks will also focus on cases related to terrorism and take forward confidence-building measures along the Line of Control (LoC), a senior official of the interior ministry stated.

“Yes, an Indian delegation headed by Home Secretary has confirmed its arrival to Islamabad on May 24,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Moazam Ali Khan. “The main objective of visiting delegation is to discuss visa and terrorism related issues.” The spokesperson said that the delegation would consist of 12 members.

Most interestingly, the delegation will include Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director AP Singh and National Investigation Agency chief SC Sinha, an organisation formed in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, reported the Press Trust of India on Monday.

Officials of the ministries of finance and commerce told The Express Tribune that they are also putting their heads together to replace a list containing 1,209 non-tradable goods. Both countries are also all set to kick off talks between the finance secretaries next month, said a senior official of the finance ministry. “It will be a big step towards trade normalisation,” he said, adding that Pakistan has already approved the scrapping of the non-tradable list by the end of 2012 in principle.

Under the new proposed visa regime, businessmen from both sides will be able to get a one-year multi-entry visa for 10 cities of their choice. Such businessmen will be exempted from reporting to the police station of the city they will be visiting in person, and will be able to send a representative on their behalf instead.

Common visa holders will be able to get visas for five cities. Currently they can apply to visit only three. Senior citizens aged 65 and above and children under 12 years of age will be able to avail 45-day visas and will be exempted from reporting to the police. Families of individuals married to a national of the other country will be able to avail two-year, multiple entry visas.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.

Islamabad News Sources -2

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