Lahore: Main opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has said that Pakistan should unilaterally abolish the visa regime with India immediately as people-to-people contacts can accelerate the bilateral peace process.
Sharif urged the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to "step forward and take the initiative of abolishing the visa regime" to facilitate the people of both countries.
He made the remarks during an interactive session with an Indian trade delegation at his residence in Lahore last night.
"Pakistan should move ahead with the decision of abolishing the visa regime unilaterally even if India hesitates to reciprocate the initiative at this point in time.
"I believe India will be forced to follow suit once Pakistan breaks this barrier. In my opinion, this step can go miles in bringing these two nuclear powers closer," Sharif said.
Sharif, who has often spoken about the need to ease visa regulations between India and Pakistan, further highlighted the importance of ending hostilities between the two countries.
He expressed his belief that peace initiatives would create "great prospects for mutual prosperity" and urged the Pakistan government to open up its trade policy and relax rules wherever possible.
He further said it was "high time" to seek the resolution of all bilateral issues: "We have assured the government of (the PML-N`s) complete support in this regard. However, it seems, the government is not doing enough," he said. Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal too was present at the session.
The Indian businessmen are in Lahore to participate in a two-day economic conference with their Pakistani counterparts.
Sharif recalled the Lahore Declaration, which he described as a "historic achievement" of his government in 1999.
He told the Indian delegation how anxious former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been for "taking the peace initiative to its logical conclusion".
He said Vajpayee had wanted 1999 to be remembered as the "resolution year".
He spoke of the significance of peace in the region and stressed the need for a hands-on approach to settle outstanding disputes.
"I was and am keen to normalise relations between the two countries. I had taken bold steps during our 1997-1999 tenure despite severe opposition from various quarters. We didn`t have the privilege of getting support from within the political community either," he said.