Amidst increasing thaw in the frosty relations between Pakistan and India, the two neighbours confirmed on Monday that a new liberal visa regime came into immediate effect instead of the earlier agreed date of January 15, 2013.
The two countries had agreed to relax stringent visa rules in September this year when then Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna visited Islamabad. However, it was formally operationalised during Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s trip to New Delhi last week.
Confirming the move, Rehman Malik told a high-level meeting in Islamabad on Monday that the Pakistan government will create a focal point and convey the names of those who will monitor the progress to the Indian home ministry through the ministry of foreign affairs immediately.
The meeting decided that adequate bank facilities and counters will be set up at the Wagah-Attari border crossing for collecting visa application fees in either Indian or Pakistani rupee, according to an official statement.
In order to facilitate visitors from both sides of the border, offices of airlines, tour operators and bus companies will be established at railway stations along the border to provide them easy-to-access transport.
India’s top diplomat in Pakistan also confirmed the move. Speaking at a Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry function, High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal also spoke about improving trade relations between Pakistan and India.
He said trade and non-tariff barriers were being removed and substantial progress in trade relations was being achieved between the two countries.
“India will also reduce the ‘sensitive trade list’ to only 100 items within a year, while Pakistan will reduce it to 100 items within five years,” he reiterated. India maintained the “sensitive list” under South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.
Sabharwal said Pakistan had not yet formally approved the “most-favoured nation” status to India.
In March 2012, Pakistan granted India the MFN status in an effort to normalise bilateral trade relations. New Delhi reciprocated in November, allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) from Pakistan in several sectors.
Regarding the pressing energy and gas crises in Pakistan, Sabharwal said India was going to have surplus electricity and gas for the next five years and would be more than willing to export it to Pakistan. He added that a gas pipeline already existed in India within 100 kilometres of the Pakistani border and could be easily extended to Pakistan as and when required.
Regarding trade between the South Asian neighbours, Sabharwal cited the example of a Pakistani fashion house set up in New Delhi which was successfully competing with local brands.
He added that infrastructure facilities have also been established on both sides of the Wagah border to facilitate cross-border trade.
Sabharwal stressed the need for confidence building measures to prevent anyone from displacing and derailing the peace process.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2012.