Indian foreign minister visits Pakistan amid thaw

AP News
Posted: Sep 07, 2012 10:05 AM
Indian foreign minister visits Pakistan amid thaw

ISLAMABAD (AP) — India's foreign minister landed in Pakistan for talks Friday, the latest sign of a thaw in relations between two countries that have fought three major wars against each other.

The three-day visit by S.M. Krishna is not expected to produce breakthroughs on the major conflicts between the two neighbors, including the disputed territory of Kashmir. But Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, are expected to announce a new visa regime that will make travel easier in both directions.

"A new and liberalized visa agreement has been finalized," Krishna said in an interview published Friday in Pakistan's The Express Tribune. "It seeks to introduce or considerably improve visa facilities for tourists, businessmen, elderly and those wishing to visit their relations and friends."

It can currently be difficult for citizens of either country to get a visa to visit the other. Pakistan and India have been at odds ever since they were both carved out of British India in 1947 amid religious bloodshed on both sides. Pakistan was formed as a Muslim-majority state, while the predominant religion in India is Hinduism.

Relations reached a recent low point in 2008 when Pakistan-based militants killed over 160 people in the Indian city of Mumbai. Indian officials have blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency for supporting the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba that is blamed for the attack, and has demanded the government punish those responsible.

"India has repeatedly stressed, including at the highest level, the need for an expeditious and successful conclusion of the trial in Pakistan relating to those involved with the Mumbai terror attacks," said Krishna in his interview.

Pakistan has denied any connection to the attack. Lashkar-e-Taiba was formed with Pakistani support in the 1990s to pressure India over Kashmir, but Islamabad claims it has cut off ties to the group.

Despite the disagreement over the Mumbai attack, relations between the two countries have improved somewhat over the last year, especially with respect to trade. Pakistan announced late last year that it would grant India "Most Favored Nation" trade status, which would reduce tariffs. New Delhi gave that status to Pakistan in 1996.

The announcement was seen as significant because it indicated Pakistan's powerful army supported greater trade with India to improve the nation's flagging economy. The army had always been seen as a barrier to a better relationship with India.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a visit to India in April. He was the first Pakistani head of state to visit the country in seven years.

In July, Zardari invited Singh to visit Pakistan, but New Delhi may need to see more progress against militancy for that to happen.

Singh told Zardari on the sidelines of a recent summit in Iran that "there must be a general feeling that Pakistan was doing all that it can to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistan's soil," according to Krishna.