Indo-Pak liberal visa agreement put on hold: Sources

Indo-Pak liberal visa agreement put on hold: Sources
New Delhi:  Two phases of the much-hyped Indo-Pak liberal visa agreement which have not been operationalised yet, have been put on hold, sources have said. This is part of a larger move by the Home Ministry to defer confidence-building measures or CBMs with Pakistan for now, given the escalation of tension with the neighbour over ceasefire violations along the Line of Control over the last 10 days.

The new visa agreement was signed only months ago and one part of it was operationalised in December, allowing freer movement of businessmen. This will continue, sources said. But no new initiative will be operationalised, which means that the process of issuing visas on arrival at the Attari-Wagah border joint check post for Pakistani senior citizens, which was to have begun earlier this week, and group visas for tourists slated for a March launch, have now been put on hold as the government waits for "an improvement in the situation," the sources said. 

Government sources emphasised that these portions of the liberal visa agreement have not been scrapped, but only deferred; sources said India could decide to review the agreement and other CBMs under the home ministry only after elections in Pakistan, due in May.

The liberal visa agreement was signed by the two countries during Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik's visit to New Delhi in September last year, and is seen as a significant step forward in bilateral relations.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has offered talks between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries to de-escalate tension. Sources said that while the government favours engagement, talks are unlikely to be held at the Foreign Minister level for now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear to Pakistan that those who mutilated the bodies of two Indian soldiers killed in Pakistani firing last week, beheading one of them, must be brought to book first. That, sources say, will remain India's focus.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid briefed the Cabinet today on Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar's offer for talks on Wednesday night. Sources said Mr Khurshid told the Cabinet that sustained pressure from India had made Pakistan shift its stance from trying to internationalise the issue to seeking bilateral dialogue. He reportedly also pointed out that Pakistan had only spoken through the media so far and India would decide on any dialogue only after a formal offer from Pakistan's diplomatic channels.

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