Moving beyond past, India, Pakistan ink visa pact (Fourth Lead)

September 8th, 2012 - 9:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Islamabad, Sep 8 (IANS) Despite some of the core irritants in their relationship continuing, India and Pakistan Saturday signaled that they were ready to move ahead and not be “held hostage to things that have happened in the past”, signing a pact to liberalise their visa regime to promote greater trade, travel and people-to-people contacts.

As Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar set the tone for the movement forward in the relationship between both countries, Indian her counterpart, India’s external affairs minister S.M. Krishna echoed almost the same sentiment at the joint press conference addressed by both ministers at the end of their meeting here Saturday.

Khar said: “The relationship has the potential to be taken forward. We must not let this relationship be held hostage to history. For too long, we have allowed opportunities to be lost.”

“Let us not look back. As the (Pakistan) foreign minister said, let us not be held hostage to whatever happened in the past,” Krishna said.

Both ministers held talks on a wide range of issues, including terrorism, Kashmir, trade and ways to expand people-to-people contacts.

After the talks, a pact on liberalising the visa regime was signed by Krishna and Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Terming the visa pact as the “big first step in normalizing relations” between India and Pakistan, Khar pushed for forging a people-centric and development-centric relationship between the two countries.

“Let’s hope a new chapter is written which is beneficial to both sides,” Krishna said, adding the discussions were held in a “cordial and constructive atmosphere”.

Khar, on her part, exhorted both countries to move beyond the negative mindset. “We must move outside the negative mindset and take a positive attitude to resolve all issues,” Khar said.

“We are willing to forge ahead without being held hostage to the past,” she said.

“This is the vision behind Pakistan’s abiding commitment to normalising relations with India. By December, we will treat traders from India like traders from any other country,” she said, alluding to Pakistan’s in-principle decision to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari Saturday approved the release all Indian fishermen in Pakistani custody as a goodwill gesture. These will include those who have completed their sentence and even those who have not, Khar said.

During the talks, Krishna pushed for the speedy trial of the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage. “Terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security in the region,” said Krishna, calling for combating terrorism in “an effective and comprehensive manner”.

He said that India was reasonable satisfied with the progress of the talks but added that “there is a long way to go and the path is not easy”.

Regarding the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan, for which Pakistan has been pressing, Krishna said that no conditions were being put by India for the visit.

“It will take place when he (PM) feels something worthwhile will come out of it. I will give my assessment of the visit to the prime minister,” Krishna said.

In reply to a question on this issue, Krishna said that prime minister Manmohan Singh was “not shying away from visiting Pakistan”.

The visa agreement, which was struck after months of negotiations, will ease trade and travel between the two countries.

Senior citizens, aged 65 and above, in India and Pakistan can now walk across the border between the two countries and need not go through the hassles of getting a visa from embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad.

Senior citizens will be granted visas on arrival at the Attari and Wagah border in India and Pakistan respectively.

Under the new arrangement, senior citizens will be granted a visa on arrival valid for 45 days.

The visa agreement also includes group tourist visas and quicker visas for businessmen.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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