Pakistan-India talks: New visa regime hits last-minute snag
ISLAMABAD: Signing of a new visa regime between Pakistan and India was put on hold on Friday after Islamabad suggested that the agreement should be signed at the political level.
The accord was supposed to be inked at the end of two-day talks between the interior secretaries of the two neighbours on Friday.
However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told journalists after meeting the Indian delegation, led by Home Secretary RK Singh, that the agreement on a relaxed visa policy was an historic development and should be signed at the “political level.”
Diplomatic sources said the Indian side came to Islamabad with expectations that the deal would be penned at the conclusion of talks. “Till last night, both sides were planning to sign the agreement on Friday,” said a source familiar with the development.
But, according to Indian media reports, Islamabad and I invite Indian Interior Minister Chidambaram to visit Pakistan to sign the document,” he added.
In New Delhi, India’s foreign secretary confirmed that the signing of the deal has been put off.
“We were ready to sign the agreement but some delay in the procedure led to a postponement,” Ranjan Mathai said on Friday.
Mathai said India had gone to the home secretary-level talks “fully prepared” to sign the new visa regime in accordance with the decision taken during April’s meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“But we also have reports that the Pakistani side referred to some delay in its procedure and the Pakistani interior minister’s desire for political participation” in signing of the pact, he said.
A joint statement issued after the talks attributed the delay to ‘some internal approvals’ required by Pakistan before the agreement is signed formally.
But it did confirm that the agreement had been finalised and would be signed at an early date.
Evidence against Hafiz Saeed
The issue of Mumbai investigations was also discussed during the talks with the Indian side asking Pakistan to do more to bring the perpetrators to justice.
However, Islamabad apparently refused to take action against Jammatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed for lack of evidence linking him with the attacks.
“We will look into the additional information provided by the Indians. But let me make it clear that we cannot take action merely on hearsay,” Malik insisted.
Nevertheless, according to the joint statement, the Pakistani side provided an update on the ongoing trial and investigations on the Mumbai terror attacks.
“The Pakistan side reiterated its commitment to bringing all the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously in accordance with due process of law,” it said.
The two countries agreed to enhance cooperation between the National Investigation Agency of India and the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan on issues of mutual concern, including Mumbai terror attacks investigation.
On its part, India provided information on the ongoing Samjhauta Express blast investigation.
Release of fishermen, prisoners
Both sides welcomed the release of prisoners and fishermen, including those suffering from ailments, since the last round of home/interior secretaries’ talks.
It was agreed that those fishermen who have completed their sentences will be released by both sides within three months along with their boats, except where the boats have been lost, damaged or confiscated by the courts.
It was decided that prisoners, whose nationality status could not be confirmed either due to lack of information or due to the physical disabilities of the prisoner concerned, would be transferred to charitable institutions in India and Pakistan pending confirmation of their nationality status.