New India-Pakistan visa regime may come into force next month
The recently-signed liberalized visa agreement between India and Pakistan is likely to be operationalised sometime next month. Modalities are being worked out to bring the new visa regime into effect simultaneously in both the countries in such a way that it can be formalized jointly by home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik.
One of the options is to issue ‘group’ visa to citizens of both countries at the same time and have the first batch of visitors from India and Pakistan welcomed by Shinde and Malik jointly in a function at Wagah border post.
The new visa agreement — introducing for the first time group tourist and pilgrim visas and separate visas for businessmen — was signed early this month during the visit foreign minister SM Krishna to Islamabad.
Sources said India had earlier planned to operationalize at least the group visa component of the agreement by notifying the rules on October 1 with other parts of the pact being taken up in a staggered manner over the month. Pakistan also had, more or less, a similar plan, they added.
But now, officials are working to notify the rules for all components of the new visa agreement in one go and make it operational in both the countries simultaneously.
“Using the opportunity of attending the function by Shinde and Malik, both the leaders may hold a dialogue at the venue to discuss issues concerning India and Pakistan,” an official said.
The new visa pact has replaced the 38-year-old restrictive visa agreement and has paved 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 visa has to be issued within a period not exceeding 45 days of application. Under the new regime, one can visit five places instead of three at present and those above 65 years of age and children below 12 years and “eminent” businessmen are exempt from police reporting.
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.