Interior Minister Rehman Malik flew into New Delhi on Friday for a three-day visit where he sealed an agreement to ease tough visa restrictions for travellers and is slated to hold security talks with his Indian counterpart Sushilkumar Shinde.
Malik stressed the need to forget the “dark days” and expressed hope the visa accord would lead to more interaction between the people of both nations.
The two governments agreed to relax visa rules in principle in September, when former Indian foreign minister S M Krishna visited Islamabad
“The journey towards peace is progressing very well, especially with the new visa regime, it will also bring a lot of good for us… let us not create any negativity.”
The visa agreement replaces a 38-year-old restrictive travel pact between the two countries.
No police reporting for children under 12, for adults over 65 and business persons are among the highlights of the new agreement that comes ahead of the Pakistan cricket series – three one-days and two T-20s from December 25 – for which Pakistani fans are expected to travel to India.
India is likely to issue up to 3,000 multi-city visas to Pakistani cricket fans and an additional 300 to VIPs for the cricket series that starts on Christmas day, allowing Pakistanis to cheer on their national team on Indian turf.
The change will also permit visitors to travel to five places now instead of three and some businessmen will get multiple-entry visas, exempting them from reporting to the police.
“This is a baby step towards reducing the tensions between India and Pakistan,” said Ashok Mehta, a former major general of the Indian army. “But it’s still significant, especially because nothing is happening on big-ticket items like border management and terrorism – the real ice-breakers.”
Malik was met at the Palam Technical Airport by India’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, R P N Singh.
“I have brought the message of peace and love from the children, women and men, old and young of Pakistan,” Malik told reporters at the airport.
“We arrested Hafiz Saeed three times. I will make the official records public, documents from the court judgement in which Hafiz Saeed has been ruled innocent. While sitting here in India, I am telling you if I receive evidence now, I will order his arrest now,” declared Malik at the impromptu press conference at the airport.
Malik will be meeting his Indian interlocutors for the first time, both of whom are new – Indian Home Minister S K Shinde and Foreign Minister Salman Khursheed.
According to officials, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde will meet Malik for bilateral talks.
Malik also reportedly met the sister and daughter of Sarbjit Singh on Friday, who is imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of spying. The family requested Sarabjit’s release and for a meeting with him. Malik assured them that when they come to Pakistan, the Interior Ministry will provide them every possible facility.
Malik will call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and opposition leader Sushma Swaraj on Saturday, according to officials. with additional input from AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2012.