Slew of steps to prepare ground for PM's Pak visit

Slew of steps to prepare ground for PM's Pak visit

Delhi, Islamabad to relax visa rules for businessmen

Slew of steps to prepare ground for PM's Pak visit

In a clear indication of attempts by both India and Pakistan to create a congenial environment for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s likely visit to Islamabad, the two countries on Saturday expressed their desire to liberalise the existing visa regime.

A formal decision on the liberal visa regime is likely to be announced at the forthcoming home secretary-level discussions  in the middle of the year, a joint statement issued by Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Fahim said here on Saturday.

Indian officials, though guarded, agreed that the intention behind increasing bilateral discussions on various issues was to set the stage for the prime minister’s visit.
Singh accepted an invitation by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari  to visit Islamabad by year-end last Sunday. However, Singh virtually put a rider on his visit saying that it was incumbent on how the dialogue process moved ahead.

The two uneasy neighbours have set a tight agenda beginning with the home secretaries’ meeting, most likely in June, followed by surveyor general-level talks on Sir Creek, defence secretaries’ meet on Siachen and foreign secretaries’ discussions. “Still we have to cover a lot of ground and need to set an agenda before the prime minister visits Pakistan. If the prime minister has to go there, he has to also make a big ticket announcement so that he will have something to show to the domestic audience. There has to be a movement forward on the 26/11 terror attack from the Pak side,” an analyst said.

The prime minister was to have visited Pakistan in 2006. But, a series of terror incidents and other issues came in the way of it. The Saturday joint declaration lays emphasis on the growing trade potential between the two neighbours.

Both countries are working towards revising the existing bilateral visa agreement that was signed in 1974 to facilitate travel of bona fide businessmen.