Indo-Pak Affairs

Pakistan India agreed to soften Visa rules and exchange prisoners

Pakistan and India have agreed over softening of the visa rules in the foreign ministers’ talks
Pakistan and India signed ‘Prisoners’ Exchange Agreement at the Foreign Office Wednesday as a result of day-long negotiations between visiting Indian Foreign Minister Parnab Mukherjee and Shah Mahmud Qureshi. The instrument of agreement was initiated by Indian and Pakistani ambassadors based in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively. Officials from both sides were reviewing peace moves which were suspended last year after political instability in Pakistan.

Four years of talks have made little headway on key issues such as Kashmir.The nuclear-armed neighbours both claim the Muslim-majority. Himalayan territory in its entirety. They came close to war following an attack on India’s parliament in December 2001. So far talks have produced a number of confidence building measures, such as transport links and nuclear safeguards.

There have also been a number of prisoner exchanges by both sides – Wednesday’s accord formalizes procedures for such swaps. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee kicked off Wednesday’s talks by meeting President Pervez Musharraf, before talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. We approach the [talks] in a spirit of co-operation, trust and pragmatism,” the Indian foreign minister said in a statement. “This is predicated on an atmosphere free from terrorism, violence and the threat of it.”

Pakistan and India also agreed to carry on the peace process by holding the fifth round of the composite dialogue. Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India, who met here to review the progress made in the fourth round, agreed to take forward the process by moving on to the fifth round Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi will visitIndia during June-July this year. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to visit Pakistan sometime this year, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during joint press conference.

The long due visit of the Indian PM is likely this year, he said at a joint a joint news conference with Indian Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee at the conclusion of a meeting to review progress in the fourth round of the bilateral composite dialogue. Qureshi however said it was too early to announce a date for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. “We need to make reasonable progress before his visit,” he added.

Pakistan and India Wednesday agreed to carry forward the dialogue to resolve all outstanding disputes, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir peacefully and move on to the fifth round of their composite dialogue. The two sides also signed an agreement to provide Consular access to the prisoners held in either country, besides activating the Joint Anti Terror Mechanism to cooperate in fighting the menace of terrorism and hold a meeting of their Joint Commission.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee addressing a joint press conference at the conclusion of talks, to review the progress made during the fourth round of the Composite dialogue expressed the resolve of either side to move forward. “We understand that we can resolve all outstanding issues with self respect and dignity,” Qureshi said and termed talks with his Indian counterpart as “frank, candid and friendly.” He said both the sides exhibited the spirit of moving forward.

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in his discussions with Pakistani leaders “I found a strong willingness and desire to move ahead and work towards full realization of our relationship.” “A stable and prosperous,‘ peaceful Pakistan and India is in our mutual interest,” he said. The two sides agreed to continue discussions on Jammu and Kashmir, “build on convergences and narrow down divergences, with consensus on implementation of cross LoC CBMs. In this regard the two sides decided to increase the frequency of Muzaffarabad-Srinagar and Rawalakot-Poonch bus service to a weekly service from fortnightly service. They also agreed to finalize modalities for intra-Kashmir trade and truck service at earliest possible.

Qureshi said most of the Kashmir-related CBMs were appropriate and functional, however more would be worked out where necessary. Qureshi termed the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline an excellent idea for the energy deficient South Asian region, adding Pakistan was sincere in its efforts for progress on the pipeline project. “IPI could play a vital role in economic progress of the two countries,” he added. Foreign Minister Qureshi said the government was pursuing its vision on South Asia’s development and prosperity.

He said in their talks, the two sides expressed satisfaction over the desire to have strong relations with each other and also appreciated India’s desire to strengthen ties with the new democratic government in Pakistan. Qureshi termed terrorism as a “joint menace” saying both countries have decided to “fight terrorism together.” He said the Joint Anti-terrorism Mechanism on the issue would be activated so that terror incidents could not impact their relations.

In this regard “both sides agreed to refrain from hostile propaganda.” He said before the start of the fifth round of Composite Dialogue in July, a meeting of Joint Mechanism would be held to find ways in controlling terrorism. On Sir Creek, he said significant progress had been made, whose results would be obvious in near future. Both sides expressed satisfaction on the progress made on sir Creek with the completion of the joint survey, the exchange of maps and discussions.

Qureshi said the two sides also held detailed discussion on ways to relax visa regime and “to improve the environment” between India and Pakistan. Qureshi said he will visit New Delhi on the invitation of Indian Foreign Minister in June. To a question Qureshi said the long-due visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was likely sometime this year.

Qureshi however said it was too early to announce a date for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. “We need to make reasonable progress before his visit,” he said and added “the prospects of progress were bright.” He said both sides discussed Siachin and reiterated their commitment to seek “an early amicable solution.” During the talks both sides agreed that progress has been made under the Composite Dialogue process on promoting a stable environment of peace and security including the CBMs.

He said the Expert Group on Nuclear and Conventional CBMs should consider existing and additional proposals by both the sides to develop further confidence building measures in the nuclear and conventional fields. Foreign minister Qureshi said both the sides realized that the food security was a big problem for the region, with the food prices rising sharply.

He said the two sides need to take effective steps in this regard, otherwise, he said it would push large segments of society below the poverty line. ndian Minister said the two countries need to expand the base of their economic cooperation. “We have to encourage investment in each others countries and have to provide friendly atmosphere by making necessary amendment in our policies,” Mukherjee said.

He said Pakistan and India were already cooperating in this regard and mentioned the export of Pakistani cement to India. He said the railway transport mechanism will be enhanced to enhance trade between the two countries and the railway officials of two countries will be meeting in June for resolving technical issues to enable increase in the freight movement. “We have a stake in each others economic development, trade is already expanding and with these arrangements, we will be able to reach the desired level of cooperation,” Mukherjee said.

When asked about expansion of trade ties Qureshi said movement on both the issues has to be in tandem. The idea is to consolidate on the area where we have made progress and concentrate on that where little progress has been made. The two sides also agreed to facilitate the process of early opening of bank branches in either country. Mukherjee said in bilateral relationship even where outstanding issues remain unresolved, progress can still be made in other areas.

He cited the example of India – China border dispute and said still they were progressing and trade target has reached 40 billion dollars and 60 billion dollars by 2010. “One is not at the cost of other , it compliments the other,” Mukherjee added. Qureshi said the two sides also exchanged views on reinvigoration of SAARC and agreed towards promoting regional cooperation for enabling South Asia to realize its full development potential. They agreed to promote sustainable development and food and energy security.
Courtesy Arab News

About the author

Azhar Masood

Azhar Masood is Controller of News in PTV, and Chief Instructor of PTV Academy, working for Arab News. He has Covered Iraq War from Baghdad for CNN, BBC, FOX News, and Al-Jazeera and other regional channels. He covered conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina. He interviewed Yasir Arafat of Palestine, Paul Wolfoweit, Prime Minister Jean Ghteyan of Canada, Dr. Amar Musa of Egypt, Mr. Haris Slajic, Prime Minister of Bosnia Dr. Akbar Ali Vallayati, former Foreign Minister of Iran, President Kumaratunge of Sri Lanka, Mr. Kumar Su Bramanyem, Director of National Defence Institute of India, Mr. Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan, Dr. Ahmad Chalabi of Iraq National Congress, Mr. Hoshyar Zubari, Vice President Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq

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