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Pak Cabinet ratifies visa accord with India
Publication Date : 01-11-2012
Seven weeks after the government signed a new visa regime with India, the federal cabinet yesterday finally ratified the agreement, thus paving the way for its implementation by the Pakistani side.
Accompanying the nod for the visa accord was the approval for four other agreements inked by Pakistan and India — three of them related to trade and the fourth one to cultural cooperation.
As expected, the ratification of the visa agreement, aimed at easing travel restrictions on senior citizens, businessmen, etc, stole the spotlight.
On September 8, Pakistan and India signed the agreement on liberalising the visa regime and creating four new visa categories during the then Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Islamabad.
Soon after signing the accord India began implementing it, but the process in Islamabad took much longer because of delays at the interior ministry.
However, the time taken by the ministry to put the agreement — previously approved by the ministers and signed by the two countries at the ministerial level — for ratification before the cabinet was shorter than the months-long delay experienced after the two countries had agreed to initial it.
Earlier this month Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had informed the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Relations that delay at the interior ministry was because of procedural matters.
But, insiders said that strong reservations expressed by the intelligence and security agencies had caused the delay. The agencies said they had not been fully consulted before the signing of the agreement. They also claimed that they did not have the capacity to deal with an enhanced inflow of visitors once the new regime took effect.
The three trade-related agreements ratified by the cabinet were signed on September 21 after the meeting of the commerce secretaries of the two countries.
One agreement is about cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters while another one is aimed at redressing trade grievances. The third agreement, between the Bureau of Indian Standards and the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, pertains to conformity of standards in the two countries.
Pakistan and India have covered a lot of ground for normalising bilateral trade. Islamabad is set to accord Most-Favoured Nation status to India in December.
The two sides are also working on opening of bank branches and allowing investments. The fourth memorandum of understanding confirmed by the cabinet provides for enhanced exchanges in the fields of music, dance, theatre and visual arts. The signatories to the agreement are the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Pakistan National Council of Arts.