External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Sunday promised to take forward the visa regime relaxation process in SAARC countries, which is presently restrictive in nature.
Khurshid was inaugurating the Eighth Regional Conference of SAFMA in Hotel Radisson Blu Amritsar.
His assurance of taking forward SAFMA's campaign for visa regime relaxation fitted perfectly with the theme of the conference: "A South Asian Vision and
Union: Opening Minds and Opening Borders".
In a gesture that was loaded with political and emotional content, he opened the conference in the presence Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
The conference will conclude at Lahore on Tuesday.
"I will take up this matter personally to convince my colleagues... while talking about the need to further relax the visa regime for SAARC countries to include journalists from eight South Asian countries so that they could freely visit neighbouring countries," he said.
He said he looked forward to the day when people would have breakfast in one country and lunch in another.
The point was endorsed by Prakash Singh Badal, who urged Khurshid to hasten efforts to remove "walls" which inhibit people of the region from crossing over without difficulty.
Badal also promised to take up the matter of introducing an unrestricted visa regime with the Central Government on his own in the near future.
Badal further emphasised that the holding of the SAFMA Conference in Amritsar was in tune with the aims and objectives of SAFMA, which is promoting secular and social cooperation.
In this context, he said that the foundation stone of Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) was laid by Miyan Mir, a Muslim saint and that the four doors of the shrine symbolized peace and freedom of human spirit.
He also urged Khurshid to provide a corridor between Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur and Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. Underlining that he was staunchly in favour of stronger people-to-people contact, Badal said such dialogues like today would pave the way for stronger ties between both countries.
Both leaders spoke in same voice on the issue. Khurshid spoke with humour and praised the chief minister whose name 'Parkash' denotes providing light and rain clouds, a compliment on which the Akali leader smiled broadly.
Badal on his part got emotional in recalling his old association with Lahore where he studied in college, and said Amritsar and Lahore during the pre-partition era were twin cities and shared a cultural bond even today.
"Punjab in the erstwhile era used to have huge geographical area, transcending till Peshawar with Amritsar and Lahore its main cities," he said.
Khurshid could not refrain from talking about the game of cricket, which he said was another way of communicating and reaching out to people.
Earlier, while addressing the gathering, SAFMA secretary general Imtiaz Alam said that the agenda of SAARC has to go beyond policy barriers and address non-policy barriers, including ensuring free flow of goods, vehicles and services across the borders, so that that the goal of an integrated South Asia is achieved, which with the inclusion of China 'becomes the largest economic regional grouping with no comparable rival'.
"Nothing will be achieved if we do not open our minds to each other and also the connectivity and roots to flourish the unhindered," he added.
SAFMA India President Vinod Sharma earlier delivered the welcome address, welcoming the chief guests, guests and delegates from SAARC countries. (ANI)