Pakistan looking to ease visa regime with India

Ahead of the Home Secretary-level talks beginning on Monday, Pakistan is hoping to make some headway with India on easing the visa regime. Pleased with the resumption of “full spectrum dialogue” after a hiatus of over two years, Pakistani officials on Saturday said the delegation heading to New Delhi for the first of the eight segment-related talks would be mindful of the need to set the right tone and tenor for the process that is to unfold between now and July when a Foreign Minister-level engagement is scheduled.

Given that it was the Mumbai terror attack that led India to suspend the composite dialogue process, the delegation is fully aware that their Indian counterparts would focus considerable attention on the progress made by Islamabad in the case. In the preparatory phase, the Interior Ministry has taken on board the views of all stakeholders in the matter.

Also, the government is hoping to get a concrete response from India on Islamabad's request to send a judicial commission to Mumbai to interrogate the lone terrorist nabbed in the attack and other officials who questioned him. Pakistan government officials said India had indicated that the modalities of the judicial commission could be sorted out at the Home Secretaries' meeting.

Though Pakistan's own concerns about terrorism did not feature in the outcome document released by the two countries after the Foreign Secretaries' meeting in Thimphu in February, Islamabad hopes to raise these issues at the meeting. These relate to the progress in the Samjhauta Express blast in which 42 Pakistanis were killed and suspicion of Indian hand in Balochistan.

Pakistan's concerns

In fact, briefing mediapersons in February after his return from Thimphu, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had categorically stated that non-inclusion of issues of concern to Pakistan in the document did not prevent Islamabad from “raising our concerns.”

Pakistan expects the existing visa regime to come in for detailed discussion as, according to officials, both countries have exchanged proposals for relaxation in certain cases. Islamabad has apparently suggested group tourist visas, 90-day visa for businessmen, and visa-on-arrival for people over 65 years but India has not warmed up to these suggestions till now.

Led by Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the delegation will include the Director-General of the Federal Investigation Agency, and representatives of the Ministry of Narcotics Control.

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