Islamabad: Vowing to move beyond the burdens of a troubled past, India and Pakistan Saturday signed a pact to liberalise their visa regime to promote greater trade, travel and people-to-people contacts. India, however, made it clear there was no going back on 26/11 justice.
In a goodwill gesture, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari announced the immediate release of all Indian fishermen, including those who have not completed their prison terms, to mark Krishna’s visit.
Pakistan pressed hard for a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but India remained non-committal and did not set a timeline.
India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar held talks on a wide range of issues, including terrorism, Kashmir, trade and ways to expand people-to-people contacts.
After the talks, a pact on liberalising the visa regime was signed by Krishna and Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The two countries also signed a cultural exchange agreement.
Terming the visa pact as the “big first step in normalizing relations” between the two countries, Khar pushed for forging a “people-centric” and “development-centric” relationship between them.
Addressing a joint press conference, both Krishna and Khar spoke about moving beyond the past to forge a new relationship. “The relationship has the potential to be taken forward. We must not let this relationship be held hostage to history. For too long, we have allowed opportunities to be lost.”
“Let us not look back. As the (Pakistan) foreign minister said, let us not be held hostage to whatever happened in the past,” Krishna said.
Khar exhorted both countries to move beyond the negative mindset. “We must move outside the negative mindset and take a positive attitude to resolve all issues,” Khar said. “We are willing to forge ahead without being held hostage to the past,” she said.
“This is the vision behind Pakistan’s abiding commitment to normalizing relations with India. By December, we will treat traders from India like traders from any other country,” she said, alluding to Pakistan’s in-principle decision to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India.
During the talks, Krishna pushed for the speedy trial of the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage. “Terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security in the region,” said Krishna, calling for combating terrorism in “an effective and comprehensive manner”.
Krishna also tried to dispel the impression that India was going soft on 26/11 justice, making it clear that “(Pakistan) will have to take follow up action on that”.
“India is not going back on it,” Krishna told Indian journalists accompanying him. “There is no question of bypassing 26/11. What happened in the immediate past is very much on the table,” he clarified to queries if India had agreed to overlook the Mumbai terror attack to take the dialogue process with Pakistan forward.
Regarding the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan, for which Islamabad has been pressing, Krishna said that no conditions were being put by India for the visit.
“It will take place when he (PM) feels something worthwhile will come out of it. I will give my assessment of the visit to the prime minister,” Krishna said.
In reply to a question on the issue, Krishna said that the prime minister was “not shying away from visiting Pakistan”.
The visa agreement, which was struck after months of negotiations, will ease trade and travel between the two countries. The pact also includes for the first time group tourist visas, pilgrims’ visas and quicker visas for businessmen.
Senior citizens, aged 65 and above, in India and Pakistan can now walk across the border between the two countries and need not go through the hassles of getting a visa from embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad.
Under the new arrangement, senior citizens will be granted a visa on arrival valid for 45 days.