Pakistan and India agree to ease visa restrictions

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 08, 2012 9:18 AM
Pakistan and India agree to ease visa restrictions

By Aisha Chowdhry

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and India will ease tough visa restrictions, their foreign ministers announced on Saturday, in a small step forward in ties between the two countries.

The agreement was the culmination of a visit by Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna to Pakistan as part of a tentative peace process that froze after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

The new pact offers eight types of visa. Pakistanis visiting India have long grumbled about New Delhi's restrictive visa regime for both tourists and businesses.

Pakistani businessmen are restricted to particular cities, so visitors cannot travel from Delhi to the nearby thriving business hub of Gurgaon without permission.

Businessmen also have to report to an Indian police station in the evenings "like a criminal", Pakistani trade official Zafar Mahmood complained in April.

Indians visiting Pakistan face similar restrictions on moving between cities.

The two countries have gone to war three times since Pakistan split off from India in 1947. The partition tore many families apart. The restrictions have been in place ever since.

In April, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited India, the first trip by a Pakistani head of state in seven years. Last year Pakistan promised India most-favored nation trading status.

But potential flashpoints between the two nations remain.

They include a long-running dispute over the mountainous province of Kashmir, currently divided between the two nations; Indian dams that Pakistanis say threaten their water supply and more attacks like those in Mumbai.

(Editing by Katharine Houreld and Sanjeev Miglani)