Ashok Tuteja, Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November 12. Travelling across the border to Pakistan will become easier once the new visa agreement between India and Pakistan comes into force soon. The proposed visa agreement seeks to make some radical changes in the existing rigid visa regime between the two countries thereby facilitating easy and hassle-free travel.
At their meeting in the Maldives earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed their resolve to put the visa agreement in place shortly.
Senior officials of the two countries finalised the draft of the agreement in October, pending approval by their political leaderships.
Though both sides are keeping the draft of the agreement under wraps, informed sources said the new regime proposes issuing six-month visas for social visits, and not a maximum of three weeks as of now, and a one-year visa with multiple entries for senior citizens, eminent persons, women of one country married to men in the other country and their children aged below 18.
It also proposes that senior citizens (above 65) will be given visa on arrival if they choose to travel by road.
Another significant proposal favours group tourism for up to 30 days, but with a condition that such travel be conducted by registered travel agents and the group comprises over 10 persons. The agents will register the group on arrival and departure with police stations of places to be visited. As of now, the two countries have been issuing visas restricted to social visits and pilgrimage and that too for travelling to the specified place and not anywhere else.
Businessmen registered by trade bodies of the two countries could be given multiple-entry visas for one year. Both sides will also allow transit visa for 36 hours to their respective citizens.
The business chambers in both countries have been complaining that giving them city-specific visa only hampers their movement when they visit each other’s country. India and Pakistan presently have a visa system under which they give visas for a maximum of three cities to each other’s citizens.
For example, a businessman from India cannot travel to Rawalpindi if does not have visa for the city, which is just about 15 km from Islamabad.
Similarly, a Pakistani businessman cannot go to Noida or Gurgaon if he does not have the visa for the two cities which are close to Delhi and have emerged as favourite destinations for corporate honchos from across the world.
The business lobby has also suggested upgrading the physical infrastructure on the Wagah border, including installation of sophisticated X-ray machines through which trucks can pass.