Sunday, September 9, 2012

New India-Pakistan Liberalized Visa Pact: Step To Boost Bilateral Ties

India and Pakistan have signed the much-awaited liberalized visa agreement, introducing for the first time group tourist and pilgrim visas, separate visa for businessmen and visa on arrival for those over 65 years of age.

The new pact, signed between External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, replaces a 38-year-old restrictive visa agreement and will pave the way for time-bound visa approval and greater people to people contacts and boost trade. While there was no time-frame for issuance of non-diplomatic visas, the new pact says that visa has to be issued with a period of not exceeding 45 days of application.

Terms and Benefits
Under the new regime, one can visit five places instead of the three at present and those above 65 years of age and children below 12 years of age and "eminent" businessmen are exempted from police reporting.

Under the category of visitor visa, earlier only single entry visa for three months used to be issued for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purpose. Moreover, visa could be only issued for longer period not exceeding one year if owing to the nature of work or business.

Under the new pact, single entry visa is to be issued for six months but stay should not exceed three months at a time and for five places.

Under a new Category II, a visitor visa for a maximum five specified places may be issued for a longer period, up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (those above 65 years), spouses of a national of one country married to a person of another country and children below 12 years of age accompanying parents as given earlier.

The new group tourist visa will be issued for not less than 10 people and not more than 50 people. This visa will be valid for 30 days and will have to be applied through tour operators, registered by the two governments.

New Group Tourist Visa
The new Group Tourist visa will be issued for not less than 10 people and not more than 50 people. This visa will be valid for 30 days and will have to be applied through tour operators, registered by the two governments.

The Group Tourist visa facility will also be available to students of educational institutions of both countries. However, this will be a tourist visa only and not for seeking admission in educational institutions of either country. There are two categories for Business visa. Businessmen with an income of Pakistan Rupees half million or equivalent per annum or annual turnover/gross sale of Pakistan Rupees three million or equivalent will be given one year business visa, with five places for up to four entries.

In Category II, businessmen with an income of at least Pakistan Rupees five million or equivalent per annum or turnover of Pakistan Rupees thirty million or equivalent per annum will be given one year multiple entry business visas for Upton ten places, with exemption from police reporting.
The visa shall specify that the period of stay of the businessman at a time shall not exceed 30 days. The maximum time taken in processing of a business visa will not exceed more than five weeks.

Visits to Religious Shrines
In what would be a real joy for people from both sides who want to visit religious places across the border, Pilgrim visas will be issued to those intending to visit religious shrines as per the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, or any future revision to the Protocol.

Such visas will need to be applied at least 45 days before the commencement of the intended tour. The visas will be issued at least ten days before the commencement of travel. These visas will be issued for a single entry, restricted to 15 days validity and would be non-extendable.

Under the new pact, persons of more than 65 years of age will be given visa on arrival at Attari/Wagha checkpoint for 45 days. This visa will be non-extendable and non-convertible.

Earlier, people had to enter and exit through the same route and have to use same mode of travel for onward and return journey. Exemptions were made on case to case basis. However, under the new scheme, people can enter and exit from different check posts and change in mode of travel will also be permitted.

Checkpoints for Traveling by Air
However, this is subject to the exception that Exit from Wagah/Attari, by road (on Foot) cannot be accepted, unless the entry was also by foot via Attari/Wagah. The checkpoints for those traveling by air has changed. While earlier, one could fly in at Mumbai, Delhi and Amritsar, under the new pact, one can fly in at Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.

With respect to police registration, the new pact says that bona fide businessmen, not in exemption from police reporting (EPR) category, may depute their authorized representatives for reporting.

The new visa agreement was supposed to be signed in May during the Home/Interior Secretary-levels talks held here but got postponed after Pakistan said it wanted to sign at political level.

Greater Understanding
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said the time has come for India and Pakistan to show greater understanding of each other’s concerns and sensitivities and to “move beyond reiteration of their positions to more substantive results” in the peace process.

He said that finding amicable and just solutions to resolve outstanding issues was important for Pakistan and India to ensure lasting peace and stability in the region. In this regard, Zardari suggested the revival of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism comprising representatives of the foreign ministries, home and interior ministries and intelligence agencies of the two countries.

Multifaceted cooperation between the two sides is imperative for socio-economic development of people and to cope with the “common enemy” of terrorism, he said.
Pointing to the need to fight terrorism jointly, Zardari said Pakistan “stood resolute to fight it until the finish.”
Zardari renewed his call for India and Pakistan to make determined efforts for “friendly, cooperative and good neighborly relations” and for “treading the path of productive and result-oriented dialogue.”

In a separate meeting with Krishna, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed confidence that bilateral relations will improve and move forward “as we have set a direction.” Noting that both countries desire good relations, Ashraf said: “We must learn from the past. We cannot change neighbors.”

“No doubt Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues need to be resolved” but we need to have a positive approach to resolve them, he said. Ashraf too said terrorism is a “common enemy” of both countries.

He said there is political consensus in Pakistan on having good relations with India. Ashraf also extended an invitation to the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan.

Comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness Scheme
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pitched for a comprehensive maritime domain awareness scheme as there were indications that terrorist groups are maintaining their ability to use the sea route. He also said that there were increasing infiltration attempts in Jammu and Kashmir.

“In Jammu and Kashmir, we are beginning to see increasing infiltration attempts, across the Line of Control and even the International Border. There are also indications about terrorist groups maintaining their ability to use the sea route.

“Vigilance, therefore, needs to be exercised not only on our land borders but along the coast line as well. The comprehensive scheme of Maritime Domain Awareness to be led by the Navy would help strengthen coastal vigilance, whereas deployment of more permanent border obstacles and better sensors could improve the situation along the land borders,” he said at the conference organized by Intelligence Bureau. Although the Prime Minister did not name any terror outfit, the Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Taiba terror outfit had used the sea route to infiltrate into Mumbai in November 2008 and went on a shooting spree killing more than 160 persons. He also said that terror threat in the hinterland continues to be a cause for worry.

Ray of Hope
In addition to boosting bilateral trade ties, it will promote people-to-people contacts in a big way. The political climate in South Asia is bound to get a new boost once people in large numbers are able to meet each other and exchange their thoughts and ideas on a frequent basis.

The idea of promoting people-to-people contacts is basically aimed at bringing about pressure on the ruling class on both sides to take decisions in accordance with the wishes of their citizens. The liberalized regime will no doubt enable easier travel and greatly facilitate people-to-people contact. This measure must be heartily welcomed.

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