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India, Pakistan put aside problems, use visas as peacemakers

Asif Zardari says Sarabjit to be considered seriously, Hina Khar deftly deflects tough questions.


Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari hosts the Indian delegation.

akistan and India have agreed to relax the stringent visa regulations that have been in place since 1974 and have characterised wider relations between the two nations for almost all of their independent history. At a press conference jointly addressed by Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Khar described it as a "first step towards the normalisation of travel between the two countries, which will allow us to work towards normalisation of relations." She emphasised that the focus was on stronger people to people contact. S.M. Krishna said that "Pakistan had reiterated its commitment to bring all the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice" and the need to "eliminate the scourge of terrorism, in all its forms".

One of the more remarkable aspects of developments in the Pakistani capital on Saturday was the announcement that the countries would work towards simultaneous progress on all tracks without being "held hostage" — perhaps an unfortunate choice of words given that movement on the terrorist attack in Mumbai, usually referred to as 26/11, was high on the priority list for the Indian delegation — by various incidents from the turbulent history they share. Khar, who spoke eloquently and confidently about the various issues and deflected the more awkward questions from the Indian contingent with aplomb, said that during the discussion between the two Foreign Ministers they had decided that "what has happened in the past is history. We must look for convergences, not divergences. We must look to the future. We are approaching relations with a completely different mindset and we are confident the last year has been reflective of that." During a session for the Indian media after the press conference, S.M. Krishna clarified that there was no question of bypassing the Mumbai terror attack, and that the reference to "the past" in the joint statement referred to the wars fought between the two countries and other such antagonisms. He also said that Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek were issues that could not be pushed aside, that they would have to be tackled with a step by step approach, and that Pakistan now had arrived at a position that he had been advocating two years ago.Image 2nd

When she spoke to the press, Khar also said that Pakistan had agreed to release all the fishermen who had been arrested by them, whether they had completed their sentences or not — she described this as a "goodwill gesture that has come from the President". A government source later said that this would involve the release of more than 270 Indian nationals. The same source emphasised the great change in the tone and tenor of Pakistan's position, and expressed hope that this would help the countries resolve a number of long-standing issues in the future.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rahman Khan and Krishna signed the agreement regarding visa regulations, which eases travel regulations for various categories of travellers: senior citizens can get a visa on arrival at Wagah; visitor visas can now extend up to two years; pilgrim visas will be issued. Krishna also clarified, during the post-conference information session, that the President had assured him, when they met, that he would be taking the Sarabjit Singh issue under serious consideration, and that he understood that India's concerns were on humanitarian grounds.

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