Pak visitors to get extended Indian visa

PoK residents can stay in J&K for up to six months

India at present allows people from PoK to visit their relatives in J&K on entry permits, which are valid for four weeks, but could be extended up to eight weeks. The Ministry of External Affairs on Saturday announced that the period of stay would be extended to six months, with multiple-entry facility.

India’s move came just ahead of the Home Secretary G K Pillai’s parleys with his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhary Qamar Zaman, which is scheduled to take place in New Delhi on Monday and Tuesday.

The talks between Pillai and Zaman will mark the restart of the structured dialogue between the two countries, almost two-and-a-half years after New Delhi suspended the Composite Dialogue with Islamabad in the aftermath of the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.

New Delhi is reluctant to term it as resumption of Composite Dialogue. But all the eight issues that had once been covered by the Composite Dialogue were included in the agenda of the several rounds of talks the two countries agreed to hold before a review at the level of the Foreign Ministers in July next.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir set the broad agenda of the dialogue, when they met in Bhuitanese capital Thimphu on February 7 last. The agenda include counterterrorism, including progress of trial of 26/11 accused in Pakistan, humanitarian matters, peace and security, including Confidence Building Measures and disputes over Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage or Tulbul Navigation Project.

While the cross-LoC CBMs are one of the issues that top the agenda of Pillai-Zaman meet next week, New Delhi’s unilateral move on Saturday to extend the stay period signaled its willingness to walk the extra mile to boost people-to-people contact between PoK and J&K.

At present, the validity of the entry permit is for four weeks and the designated authorities for cross-LoC travel (passport offices in Srinagar and Jammu) can extend the stay period by another two weeks. Based on the recommendation of the J&K government, the Ministry of External Affairs can extend the stay for a further period of two weeks in certain cases, such as health or family emergencies.

MEA spokesman and Joint Secretary (External Publicity) Vishnu Prakash said New Delhi’s decision was intended “to encourage more people to people contacts across the LoC”. Sources said New Delhi had since long been contemplating to simplify the procedure and cut down the time required for issuing the entry permits for cross-LoC travel as well as to extend the period of stay. But Islamabad had not responded positively to the proposals.

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