Islamabad, Sep 8 (IANS) India and Pakistan Saturday signed a key agreement that will ease the visa regime to promote greater trade, travel and people-to-people contacts between the two neighbours.
The agreement was signed by India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
"This is the sign of friendship," Malik said after the signing ceremony.
Before the signing of the agreement, Krishna, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, held wide-ranging talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.
The agreement, which was struck after months of negotiations, will ease trade and travel between the two countries.
Senior citizens, aged 65 and above, in India and Pakistan can now walk across the border between the two countries and need not go through the hassles of getting a visa from embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad.
Senior citizens will be granted visas on arrival at the Attari and Wagah border in India and Pakistan respectively.
Under the new arrangement, senior citizens will be granted a visa on arrival valid for 45 days.
"Senior citizens can easily visit the other country now," a source said here.
Many senior citizens in the two countries have been witness to the bloody partition in 1947 in which millions of people were uprooted after India's independence and Pakistan's creation.
The new visa regime envisages several changes aimed at easing controls.
There will be a single-entry visitor visa for a maximum period of six months but the stay cannot exceed three months at a time and for five places (currently limited to three places).
A group tourist visa, for groups of 10-50 people, has also been introduced for the first time. This will also be available for students provided they do not seek admission in the other country.
Also, the business visa has been separated from the visitor visa, a communique said.
The business visa will have to be issued within five weeks.
People aged more than 65, children below 12 and eminent businessmen are exempted from reporting to the police.
Another simplified rule will allow people to enter and exit from different check posts and change their mode of travel. This was not permitted earlier.
"However, this is subject to the exception that exit from Wagah/Attari, by road (on foot) cannot be accepted, unless the entry was also by foot via Attari/Wagah," the communique said.
Under a new category, a visitor visa for a maximum of five specified places may be issued for a longer period of up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (above 65); the spouse of a national of one country married to a person of another country and children below 12 accompanying parent(s).
Also, a transit visa will now be issued within 36 instead of 72 hours.
Under the existing visa agreement, the single entry visa is issued for three months for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purposes. However, the visa can be issued for a longer period not exceeding a year owing to the nature of work or business.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)