Pakistan prefers the agreement to be signed at political level: Malik

India and Pakistan have failed to sign the eagerly awaited and widely expected agreement on a relaxed visa regime but have decided to explore the feasibility of establishing a hotline between the two Home/Interior Secretaries and begin discussing a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).

Though India came prepared for signing the agreement that provides for group tourism visa and visa-on-arrival for the elderly and children, besides easier business visas, Pakistan from the first day of talks on Thursday indicated that while it was in agreement with all that had been jointly decided at earlier meetings, it needed more time.

And by Friday morning it became clear that there would be no visa agreement with Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik telling journalists, after meeting Home Secretary R. K. Singh, that the liberalised visa regime would not be signed at this meeting. Indicating that Islamabad would prefer the agreement to be inked at the political level, the Minister said he would be glad if Home Minister P. Chidambaram came to Pakistan for signing it.

However, a joint statement issued at the end of the two-day talks attributed the delay to internal approvals Pakistan needs to secure. “Both sides welcomed the finalisation of the visa agreement and agreed to sign it at an early date,'' the statement said.

Speaking to journalists in New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said the Home Secretary had gone “fully prepared” to sign the agreement as per the decision taken during the discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on April 8. He also confirmed that Mr. Malik wanted political participation in the signing of the agreement, adding Mr. Chidambaram had said he would visit Pakistan at a convenient time.

While the delay in signing the visa agreement was a disappointment, the decision to initiate negotiations on the MLAT is seen by legal experts as a welcome move as investigations into trans-national terror cases and other crimes involving two or more countries such as the Mumbai terror attack require cross-border cooperation. To strengthen mutual cooperation in criminal matters, Pakistan has agreed to examine the draft MLAT handed over by India.

As for the hotline between the two Ministries, Pakistan said it would examine the technical parameters suggested by the Indian Telecommunications Department. Besides, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Investigation Agency would meet soon to work out technical details of moving forward on issues of human trafficking, fake currency, cybercrimes and Red Notices (RNs). Pending RNs would be executed expeditiously and Pakistan agreed to examine issues pertaining to Letters Rogatory.

While both sides reiterated their stated positions on the Mumbai terror attack and the Samjhauta Express blast, they decided that fishermen caught for straying into each other's waters would be released with their boats within three months of completion of sentence. In case their nationality has not been established, they will be transferred to charitable institutions pending confirmation. Presently, they continue to languish in prison after the completion of their sentences.

More In: National | News