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Pak keen to sign new visa agreement during Krishna's visit

August 31, 2012 22:52 IST

Pakistan is keen to sign a new visa agreement during External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's visit to Islamabad during September 7-9 for talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, official sources said on Friday.

Krishna will visit Pakistan to review the last round of the bilateral dialogue process with Khar, the Foreign Office announced on Friday.

He will visit Pakistan for 'holding a review meeting with the foreign minister at her invitation', an official statement said.

Sources in the foreign office told PTI that the Pakistani side wanted the new visa agreement to be signed during Krishna's visit.

The sources said work on the pact had been completed. The visa agreement was set to be signed during a meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries of the two countries in May but it was held up at the last minute due to opposition from Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Talking to reporters on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran today, Malik said Pakistan had finalised work on the new visa regime with India and hoped the agreement would be signed during the Indian external affairs minister's visit to Pakistan.

However, it is believed that a formal understanding on the signing of the agreement is yet to be hammered out by both sides.

Indian officials were surprised when the signing of the agreement was put off at the last minute during Home Secretary R K Singh's visit to Islamabad in May. A joint statement issued after the talks between the home and interior secretaries said both sides had welcomed the finalisation of a new visa agreement and 'agreed to sign it at an early date'.

The Pakistani side informed the Indian team that 'some internal approvals were under process and the agreement will be signed once they are in place'.

At the time, Interior Minister Malik said the agreement involved important issues and should be concluded at the political level.

The two countries have been working on the draft of the new visa agreement for over a year. The new relaxed visa regime will, for the first time, include group tourist visas, visas on arrival for senior citizens and children and year-long multiple-entry visas for businessmen.

The foreign office announced that External Affairs Minister Krishna will hold talks with Foreign Minister Khar in Islamabad on September 8.

"The two ministers will also co-chair the Plenary of the India-Pakistan Joint Commission to be held in Islamabad on September 8, 2012," the statement said. The Joint Commission was revived in 2005 after a gap of 16 years and it held meetings in 2006 and 2007.

Unlike past visits, the Indian minister will spend the last day of his trip in Lahore, where he will hold meetings with leaders of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and members of the business community and civil society, Indian officials said.

Krishna's visit will come close on the heels of talks held yesterday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran.

This was the second meeting this year between the two leaders. Zardari last met Singh during a day-long private visit to India in April to pray at a Sufi shrine in Ajmer.

India and Pakistan resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba. A total of 166 people were killed in the brazen assault on India's financial hub by 10 terrorists.

The two countries have made considerable progress in the past year in normalising trade and commerce relations. India recent allowed investments by Pakistani investors and Islamabad has decided in principle to give Most Favoured Nation-status to the neighbouring country by the beginning of next year.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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