It will benefit businessmen, elderly, children and spouses, says Chidambaram

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Friday said New Delhi and Islamabad could soon sign a more liberal bilateral visa regime after the Pakistan Cabinet cleared it. He appealed for expeditious dismantling of all trade barriers.

He was addressing a gathering after inaugurating the Integrated Checkpost at Attari, 33 km from Amritsar. The state-of-the-art facility, established on 118 acres at a cost of Rs.150 crore, was dedicated to the “nation and India-Pakistan peace and harmony.”

Talking to journalists later, Mr. Chidambaram said though details could not be revealed now, the new visa regime would facilitate the movement of businessmen, the elderly, children and spouses. India had already agreed to the new regime, and was awaiting an appropriate decision from the Pakistan Cabinet.

Responding to the sentiments expressed by speakers at the meeting, Mr. Chidambaram appealed to the Indian and Pakistani Commerce Ministers, Anand Sharma and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, to initiate the process for dismantling all trade barriers, “so that we trade every goods produced in our respective countries.”

Mr. Sharma highlighted the need for trade along the land route of all items, except those on the ‘negative list,' instead of confining it to the present 137 items. The Integrated Checkpost would go a long way in the economic integration of the region. “Wealth must be generated, redistributed and reinvested.” It was imperative that the next generation should not inherit the bitter legacy of the past, he said.

As he raised the slogan, Pakistan-Hindustan dosti zindabad, evoking an enthusiastic response from the crowd, Mr. Fahim said his government had started issuing multiple visas to Indian businessmen. He hoped that the trial period, which currently was for one year, would be extended soon.

However, the day belonged to the Chief Ministers of Indian and Pakistani Punjabs, Parkash Singh Badal and Shehbaz Sharif, who made emotional speeches, amid traditional bonhomie. While Mr. Badal appealed to Mr. Chidambaram not to hesitate any further in opening the doors to each other, Mr. Sharif said both countries had lost a lot in human resource, and economically, by fighting wars and adopting hostile positions. He sought immediate resolution of critical issues such as Kashmir and river water sharing so that both countries could partner in progress and enjoy prosperity.

Mr. Badal demanded that the Integrated Checkpost handle all those goods traded between Karachi and Mumbai. He recalled how Punjab was the biggest and richest State in India before Partition, and how it suffered in the post-1947 era. He wanted the Hussainewala border in Ferozpur district reopened and urged Pakistan to allow a special corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib for the benefit of pilgrims.

Mr. Sharif suggested creation of an “economic free zone” between the two countries to attract investment and accelerate trade. He asked India and Pakistan to learn from the western countries, which had created the European Union, a common currency and the European Parliament, and came to the rescue of Greece. “Why cannot we be honest to ourselves?” he asked, calling for a commitment from both countries to cut down on defence expenditure and to spend more on poverty alleviation, health and education.