Indo-Pak discussion on new visa to continue

Islamabad: India and Pakistan on Friday said they would continue discussions on a new visa agreement in August so that the pact could be finalised at the next meeting of their Home and Interior Secretaries.

At the end of a two-day meeting of the Joint Working Group on visa issues in Islamabad, the two sides announced that they had agreed to continue discussions on amendments in the existing visa agreement at the group`s next meeting to be held in New Delhi before the end of August.

The two sides said in a joint statement that they would work for the finalisation of the new visa agreement at the next meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries to be held in Islamabad.

The statement did not say when the secretary-level talks would be held.

The two sides also discussed "details and modalities of visa facilitation with a view to easing travel for nationals of either country desiring to visit the other", the statement said.

An Indian official, who did not want to be named, told PTI the two sides focussed on ways to facilitate travel by citizens of both countries "within the existing regime".

The statement said the discussions were held in a "friendly and cordial atmosphere".

This was the first meeting of the Joint Working Group, which was formed in pursuance of a decision made during the meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries in New Delhi during March 28-29.

The Indian delegation at the talks was led by G V V Sarma, Joint Secretary (Foreigners) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, while the Pakistani side was led by Nasar Hayat, Additional Secretary in the Interior Ministry.

India and Pakistan have restrictive visa regimes that limit the locations which can be visited by citizens of both countries.

Though Pakistani visa applications dipped sharply due to tensions generated by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, India has issued more visas in recent years than the Pakistani side.

Over the past few years, India has granted between 80,000 and one lakh visas annually.

The figure for the Pakistani side has hovered between 20,000 and 40,000, official sources said.