New Delhi: A liberal visa regime that India and Pakistan have recently agreed on to facilitate easier business travel between the two often hostile neighbours could be put before the Indian cabinet for approval as early as next week, a senior Indian official said on Friday.
The foreign ministry was expected to have the note on new visa rules “ready within the next seven or eight days for cabinet ratification”, said Arvind Mehta, joint secretary in the commerce ministry.
According to the new rules, businessmen from Pakistan would get multiple entry visas, the freedom to travel to five to 10 cities and exemption from reporting to the local police station. Currently Pakistani businessmen are issued single entry visas, can travel only to three cities and need to report to the police. Indian businessmen are likely to be offered the same privileges by Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Photo: Bloomberg
The proposed rules were described by Pakistani high commissioner to India Shahid Malik as a “quantum jump” over existing procedures.
Both Mehta and Malik were speaking at an India-Pakistan business meet organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).
Malik hailed the proposed changes—the first in almost three decades—as “futuristic” and “a considerable improvement over the existing system”, but declined to specify a date by which the new visa regime would be implemented by both sides.
Buoyed by the liberal visa rules on the anvil and Pakistan’s recent attempts to grant India most-favoured nation (MFN) status, more than a decade after India had granted this special trade facility to its neighbour, businessmen from both countries at the Ficci meet suggested new areas for cooperation, ranging from joint ventures in food processing to hydel power generation.
The moves come in tandem with the prime ministers of India and Pakistan declaring their intent to “open a new chapter” in ties on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian leaders in the Maldives earlier this month.
Bilateral ties appear to be slowly coming back to an even keel after being crippled by the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 10 militants belonging to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group targeted multiple locations in India’s commercial capital. At least 166 people were killed in the November 26-29 siege that led to India putting on hold its four-year old peace dialogue with Pakistan.
Tariq Sayeed, head of the Pakistan business delegation, said the business community in his country “fully supports” the decision to grant MFN status to India. Potential trade between India and Pakistan was $12 billion (around Rs60,000 crore) in 2010 against the transacted trade of a little more than $2 billion, Sayeed said. If Pakistan imported raw materials like iron and steel directly from India, Islamabad “could not only save 35% of its import bill but also increase its competitiveness”, he said, urging India to allow Pakistani investments.
Sayeed’s comments came less than 24 hours after the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group organized a protest march against MFN status to India in Lahore.