Indian Decade

India, Pakistan Loosen Visa Restrictions

People-to-people relations are the latest area to receive a boost as the two sides continue their thaw.

The recent thaw in India-Pakistan relations continued this weekend when the two sides signed a landmark visa agreement, thereby laying a solid foundation for increased people-to-people ties. The agreement signed by the visiting Indian Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna and Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, rationalizes the prevailing visa regime between the two neighbors.

“We will not be held hostage to history…. If you look at the history of India and Pakistan we have missed many opportunities in past and we don’t want to lose any opportunity now,” said Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar.

For his part, the Indian Foreign Minister also talked about “convergence,” and stressed, “let us not look back, let us not be held hostage to whatever has happened earlier. I think we will have to keep our sights to the future. Let us look to the future. Let us walk the talk together.”

The positive tone was in stark contrast from Krishna’s last visit to Islamabad in 2010 when the joint press conference with then Foreign Minister of Pakistan ended on a bitter note.

The dialogue between two countries came to a standstill after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The peace process resumed again in 2010 when Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh decided to engage Pakistan despite the lack of progress in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice. 

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While India continues to press for action against the terrorists involved in attacking India, it is at the same time engaging Islamabad economically. As a result of this effort, the last two years have been marked by the countries making substantial progress in deepening trade relations. This twin strategy gave the civilian government in Pakistan a window of opportunity to deal with its eastern neighbor despite the reluctance of the military establishment. The peace constituency in Pakistan recieved a new lease on life and today India holds Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. 

In the latest round of talks India again raised the issue of bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice. At the same time, it did not hold expanding people-to-people ties hostage to this lingering dispute.