Pakistan and India are set to sign a landmark visa accord today (Saturday), in a move that should deliver the first-ever tangible results of a nascent peace process between the arch rivals that had stalled following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The historic visa regime, which seeks to do away with decades-old stringent travel restrictions on cross-border movement, will be signed during talks between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Indian counterpart S M Krishna.
The Indian foreign minister arrived on Friday on a three-day visit as part of the composite dialogue between the two countries. Krishna’s formal talks with Khar at the weekend will culminate the second round of talks on the peace process.
Ahead of the high-level negotiations, foreign secretaries from the two countries met to firm up the agenda.
Official sources said the two secretaries finalised the new visa regime, which was discussed in May during talks between the interior secretaries of the two countries. However, the final agreement could not be signed on Pakistan’s insistence that it must be signed at the political level.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed to the media on Thursday that the visa regime would be signed during Krishna’s visit.
There are eight different categories of visas in the new regime, which include diplomatic, non-diplomatic, 36-hour transit visit, tourist, civil society, media and business.
The tourist visa will be limited to five destinations and will be valid for a period of six months, while the diplomatic visa category will offer visas to the consular, the consular mission and their family members.
Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told reporters that the two sides had “positive discussions”, adding that the water issue and Kashmir dispute needed to be addressed. Jilani said a report detailing the progress so far made in the second round of talks would be presented before the two foreign ministers on Saturday.
Talking to reporters on his arrival at the Chaklala airbase, the Indian external affairs minister said Pakistan and India needed a step-by-step approach to resolve all their contentious disputes.
“The two countries are heading in the right direction,” Krishna said, reminding that all issues cannot be resolved at once.
Commenting on the issues of Siachen‚ Sir Creek and trade between the two countries‚ Krishna said India and Pakistan are moving forward in a gradual manner.
Krishna calls on president, Prime Minister
Krishna also held separate meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
President Zardari told the Indian foreign minister that the two countries must now move beyond the reiteration of their positions to more substantive results. He also pointed out that the two neighbours must not allow the derailment of the normalisation process.
“In this regard, the president also suggested reviving the anti-terrorism mechanism comprising representatives of the foreign office, home/interior and intelligence agencies of the two countries,” President Zardari was quoted as saying in an official statement.
The president said frequent interactions of the leadership of both countries would help provide impetus to efforts for ensuring peace and creating better understanding on various issues.
Krishna also called on Prime Minister Ashraf and discussed bilateral relations. They exchanged views on continuation of the peace process.
Prime Minister Ashraf said Krishna’s visit is of great importance as the people of both countries desire good relations.
“We must learn from the past. We cannot change neighbours,” he said, adding that Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues needed to be resolved with a positive approach.
The premier also told the Indian foreign minister that there was political consensus in Pakistan over having good relations with India.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012.