India, Pakistan Relax Visa Requirements as Part of Peace Process

India, Pakistan Relax Visa Requirements as Part of Peace Process
An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier stands guard beside the gates at the India-Pakistan Wagah Border. Photograph: Narinder Nanu via AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan and India will ease visa restrictions for their citizens to boost business travel and trade across their border as part of their push for peace.

India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna signed the visa agreement in Islamabad Sept. 8 during a three-day visit. The change will let businessmen from both countries obtain multiple entry visas, exempting them from a police reporting requirement. Tourist visas will also be issued for the first time, according to the state-run Pakistan Television.

The agreement was signed after Krishna held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar for the second time since peace talks resumed last year. Five years of talks that strengthened trade, transport and cultural links were halted following the attacks on Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistani gunmen, in which 166 people died.

Since the resumption, the nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars have made progress normalizing their economic links. Any resolution to long-standing territorial disputes such as Kashmir remains hobbled by distrust.

“We should move forward without being held hostage to the past,” Khar said during a joint press conference with Krishna in Islamabad on Sept. 8. “We do need simultaneous progress on all tracks to sustain the momentum.”

Pakistan is on schedule to normalize trade with India, removing all restrictions by December this year, she said.

In July, India’s then Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the arrest and interrogation of a man suspected of helping organize the Mumbai attacks showed he had received some kind of state support from Pakistan.

False Rumors

India accused Pakistan last month of fueling false rumors that people from India’s northeast were being attacked after deadly ethnic clashes between indigenous tribes and Muslim migrants in the state of Assam.

“Terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security,” Krishna said in his prepared remarks without giving a firm date for the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s expected visit to Pakistan. “I think the visit will take place at an appropriate time when the atmosphere is ripe and when he feels that something worthwhile will come out of his visit.”

Singh’s trip would be the first by an Indian premier since January 2004 when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Islamabad for talks with then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

While there has been little progress in addressing core issues between the nations, “diminishing malice is becoming the defining characteristic” of relations, Bahukutumbi Raman, a retired Indian intelligence officer and security analyst, wrote in an analysis Sept. 7.

In their joint communique, the foreign ministers said the countries were committed to fighting terrorism and would carry on the process of peace talks “with a view to resolving all outstanding issues” and establishing good neighborly relations.

They agreed to hold further talks on Kashmir, a partitioned state claimed in full by both India and Pakistan and the cause of two of their three wars.

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