India eases visa restrictions for Pakistan

Tourists and business visitors to travel more freely, in a sign of warming relations between the neighbours.

Pakistani tourists and business travellers will soon be able to visit India without many of the restrictions placed upon them in recent years.

The easing of the restrictions comes as Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, visits New Delhi to ratify a new visa agreement between the two countries.

Malik’s three-day trip – his first official visit to India – is aimed at boosting trade and business relations between the South Asian rivals, and heralds the most significant changes to visa rules since 1974.

Pakistani musician Ali Hamza told Al Jazeera that a violent minority had spoiled relations between the two nations.

“I’m really hoping that it becomes easier, as in like, we don’t have to work that hard to get our visas processed,” he said.

“Obviously I understand there are issues, there is a situation. There is a security situation with Pakistan, there are elements that have totally ruined the name of our country, but there are most other elements that really deserve to come.”

Easing of restrictions

Analyst Sushant Sareen talks to Al Jazeera

Tourists will now be allowed to visit five cities in India, instead of being restricted to three, as in previous years. Business travellers will be allowed to visit between five and 10 cities, depending on their business revenue.

Elderly visitors, traders and young children will also be exempted from reporting to police stations during their trip.

Flights between Islamabad and New Delhi are to be resumed, as are ferry services between Karachi and Mumbai – the Indian financial capital hit by the 2008 massacre, in which 166 people were killed by Pakistani gunmen reported to be members of Lashkar-e-Taiba – designated as a “terrorist” group by several nations.

That attack is expected to feature in this week’s talks, with voice samples of the attackers’ alleged handlers and the custody of alleged LeT founder Hafeez Saeed issues of contention, reported India’s Zee News.

Yet addressing these tensions may be beyond the capabilities of those attending this summit.

“Mr Rehman Malik is a bit of a lame duck at the moment, with Pakistani elections coming up in the next couple of months,” said Sushant Sareen, a consultant for the Pakistan Project at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

“So we can’t really expect them to deliver on all those things that India wants satisfaction on. It will be a photo opportunity, the [visa] agreement…will be ratified and operationalised, and that’s where things will end.”

Details emerge

Under the new agreement, Pakistani tourist groups of 10 to 50 people will be allowed 30-day visas through tour operators approved by the Indian government. Other tourists will be allowed to stay for up to six months, as long as an official request is filed before the three-month point of the visit.

Business visitors with an annual income of at least $5,120 or a turnover or $30,700 will be granted a multiple-entry visa for five cities, reported Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. Business visitors with over $51,200 in yearly income or $3.1m in turnover would be able to get a one-year multiple-entry visa for up to 10 cities.

The deal’s ratification comes as Indian officials attempt to entice international business to the country after easing through a parliamentary vote to introduce foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

Finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram also hinted that further economic reform measures would emerge in the coming weeks.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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