India and Pakistan will meet again in August to take forward their discussions that concluded here on Friday on a revised visa regime within the framework of a Joint Working Group (JWG) that has been set up for the first time since the two countries entered into a Bilateral Visa Agreement in 1974.
A major irritant in people-to-people contact with visas taking nearly two months at a time to be issued – when it is – the decision to set up a JWG was taken at the meeting of Home/Interior Secretaries in New Delhi in March this year.
According to the joint press statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad – the Pakistan Foreign Office called the same document a ``joint statement’’ – the two sides discussed details and modalities of visa facilitation with a view to easing travel. Amendments to the existing visa agreement – signed in 1972 in pursuance of the Simla Agreement – were discussed while agreeing to continue working on a new regime.
Under the present regime, visas are issued on a reciprocal basis as a result of which if one country tightens up its system, the other follows suit in identical manner. Also, India and Pakistan are probably the only two countries in the world which issue city-specific visas. Besides, entry and exit points are specified on the visa as also the mode of travel. And, police reporting on arrival is mandatory for most categories of visitors.
In particular, there has been a demand for streamlining the visa system for those applicants who seek to travel across for visiting members of families divided by Partition. And, with India and Pakistan working towards improving trade links, business visas were also under focus at the meeting.
The JWG is scheduled to meet again in August-end in New Delhi before the next round of Home/Interior Secretaries meeting in Islamabad. Now that one round of all the sector-specific meetings – barring those that are to be dealt by the Foreign Secretaries – have been wrapped up in the resumed dialogue process, all eyes are on the foreign secretary-level engagement scheduled for this month-end; possibly in Islamabad.