India and Pakistan ease travel restrictions; Malik equates 26/11 to Babri
New Delhi: India and Pakistan on Friday formally operationalised a new visa agreement that would facilitate multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for businessmen, besides allowing visa on arrival for the elderly.
The visa announcement was made after talks between Malik and Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde shortly after the former began a three-day visit to India.
Announcing the new regime, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said, "This new visa regime will pave the way in promoting people-to-people contact. We have already issued circular to all Indian missions abroad and state governments notifying the introduction of the new visa regime."
On the occasion, visiting Interior Minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik said, "Time has come to forget the old days. This visa regime will take bilateral relations forward. It will bring good trade, will remove this miscommunication...This is not only a historic step but a step forward for peace that we are looking for generations."
He said people travelling from Wagah to Lahore would get a "complimentary ride".
The new agreement would facilitate multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for businessmen, allowing them to visit five cities instead of three as per the older system.
It would exempt police verification for businessmen with an annual income above Pakistani Rs five million or annual turnover above Pak Rs 30 million or equivalent in Indian currency travelling on business visa, a statement issued on the occasion said.
"Now entry and exit from different designated immigration check posts can be allowed, if indicated in application. However exit from Wagah-Attari on foot cannot be accepted unless the entry was also on foot via Attari-Wagah," it said.
Under the new regime, visa on arrival to citizens over 65 years will start in four weeks from January 15. The visa will be for 45 days with single entry at Attari-Wagah checkpost.
The two countries had signed the new regime on September 8 with an aim to facilitate travel for the nationals of both countries and promote people-to-people contact.
The two countries would also operationalise from March 15, 2013 the group tourist visa for a period of 30 days which would be issued to tourists travelling in groups of 10-50.
"Group tourist visa for 30 days may be issued for travel in groups with not less than 10 members and not more than 50 members in each group, organised by approved tour operators/ travel agents," the statement said.
'No credible evidence against Hafiz Saeed'
On terrorism, the Pakistani Interior Minister said his country was suffering from terror attacks too. "Terrorism is horrible… ask the people of Pakistan who are suffering at the hands of non-state actors… (we should) forget the past and move forward," he said,
Then in the same breath, he added: "Terrorism brings grief, we do not want a 9/11, Bombay blast, Samjhauta Express blast, Babri Mosque demolition. We want peace not only in India and Pakistan but in the region."
He also questioned the Indian evidence on Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed vis-a-vis the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
"Pakistan and India have to be friends," Malik told reporters on his arrival, which was delayed by about four hours. "I come with a message of love and peace from the people of Pakistan."
He underlined that India and Pakistan had travelled a long distance since the Mumbai attack when their relations touched a new low.
Malik said because of interactions between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the "journey to peace is progressing very well", and gave credit to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"We are all here to take the peace process forward," he added.
Malik remained adamant that the evidence provided by India thus far linking Saeed with the Mumbai attack was not enough to stand scrutiny in a court.
"We have no love lost for Hafiz Saeed. If I got the information today before I leave from here, I will order his arrest," Malik told reporters on his arrival here on a three-day visit.
"Just a statement from (hanged Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir) Kasab is not enough. We have to follow the law of the land. And of course (satisfy) the court... There has been a lot of propaganda about Hafiz Saeed.”
New Delhi has conveyed its strong concerns over Saeed being allowed to roam freely in Pakistan and also indulge in provocative anti-india rhetoric.
Malik also appeared to dismiss the issue of the torture of Kargil hero Captain Saurabh Kalia by the Pakistani Army.
As a debate raged over torture of Captain Kalia by Pakistan Army in May 1999, Malik said he was not aware whether he "died of a Pak bullet or weather".
"I have not examined the case. It has just come to my notice.... When a fight is going on in the border, we really don't know whether he died of a Pak bullet or he died of weather?," Malik said.
With agencies inputs