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Tuesday, Dec 28, 2004

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India offers visas to Pakistan students

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, DEC. 27. India has decided to allow Pakistan students to study in its educational institutions and relax the visa regime for certain categories of citizens.

The Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saram, who is here for the second round of composite dialogue, told a news conference today that the unilateral gestures by New Delhi were confidence-building measures (CBMs) to boost the peace process.

As part of the visa relaxation regime Pakistan nationals above 65 years, below 12 years and people travelling in groups could get visa on arrival at the border. Welcoming students to study in Indian educational institutions, Mr. Saran said India was ready to consider visas to Pakistani students on a case-by-case basis. He also announced the extension of free medical facilities for Pakistani children suffering from cardiac ailments in Indian hospitals. Earlier, India had provided free medical treatment to 40 children. Now, 20 more children will be accorded the facility.

Asked about Pakistan's response, the Foreign Secretary said these were unilateral decisions to be implemented by India, and New Delhi would appreciate any reciprocal gesture. The visa relaxation proposals would be notified as soon as arrangements were made at the Wagah border.

The CBMs and people-to-people contacts were not intended to divert attention from Kashmir, and India was ready to engage in and sustain a serious dialogue on Kashmir. "There is a perception in Pakistan that India is emphasising on CBMs to avoid engagements on Kashmir. This is not correct. We believe that CBMs will help in resolution of Kashmir," he maintained.

Referring to the statement of the Pakistan Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, on the need to address the "trust deficit" between India and Pakistan, he said that CBMs could go a long way in dealing with the issue. "As we carry on the dialogue process, we need to carry the people with us."

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