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Asia

Pakistan minister celebrates visa deal with India

Pakistan’s interior minister has offered a message of "peace and love" to Indians as the two nuclear rivals try to build diplomatic bridges. Top of the agenda was the signing of a new visa agreement to ease travel.

The Pakistan Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, arrived for a three-day visit to India on Friday as the two countries look to improve their difficult relationship.

"I have brought the message of peace and love from the children, women and men, old and young of Pakistan. I am here to take the peace process forward," Malik told reporters at the airport in Delhi.

The visit sees Malik, pictured above right, formalize a new visa agreement, with the minister also set to hold talks on security with Indian counterpart Sushilkumar Shinde, pictured left. The travel rules ease curbs on issuing visas to traders, elderly people, tourists, pilgrims, members of civil society and children.

Malik expressed hope that the visa accord would lead to more interaction between the people of both nations

"This new visa regime will usher in more goodwill and the journey to progress and prosperity will deepen further for both sides," Malik told DW on the sidelines as he arrived.

Parked trucks are see in Navi Mumbai (Photo: STRDEL/AFP/GettyImages)

Trade is expected to rise dramatically between the two countries in the coming years

The deal was agreed after talks were held in Islamabad between foreign ministers in September. It replaces a 38-year-old restrictive visa pact between the neighbors, which have fought three wars since Indian independence from British rule in 1947. 

Getting to know one another better

For traders, it's particularly welcome news. Bhure Lal, a wholesale Delhi businessman dealing with spices is thrilled that curbs on issuing visas to traders travelling to Pakistan have finally been lifted.

"If you want better relations between countries and lasting peace then you need to build inter-dependency. People to people contact are so important so that societies know each other better," Lal told DW.

Under the new regime, travellers above 65 years of age, children below 12 years of age and "eminent" businessmen are exempted from reporting to the police. In addition comes the issuing a multiple city visa instead of the current visa policy of issuing three city visas.

"What is important is the elimination of compulsory police reporting for visitors," Pradeep Gulati, an Indian restaurateur and a frequent visitor to Islamabad told DW. "This will be a major step in building confidence among the two nations and we won't have to view each other with scepticism."

India is also likely to issue 3,000 visas to Pakistani cricket fans attending a short limited-overs tour beginning later this month.

India-Pakistan border trade set to increase

Trade is set to expand exponentially with both countries having agreed on a liberalization of restrictive rules. Pakistan has agreed to allow trading of up to about 6,000 different products through the land border route, compared with just 137 - such as fruits, vegetables, livestock, dry fruits and paper - at present.

An Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns (Photo: David Guttenfelder, File/AP/dapd)

India's mistrust of Pakistan was exacerbated by the Mumbai attacks

Exports at the Attari-Wagah international land border between India and Pakistan in Punjab border are currently valued at 2 billion rupees (44.5 million US dollars). The figure is expected to rise fivefold in three years. 

Currently, most of the trade between India and Pakistan is done through the Mumbai and Karachi ports - pushing up costs and eating up time due to shipping.

"We will be prepared to reap the benefits to the fullest and this higher volume of traffic is good for traders on both sides," Jagdish Bal, a businessman from Chandigarh told DW.

Also on the agenda during Malik's visit were the issues of border administration, counter-terrorism, counterfeit Indian currency notes and cooperation between security agencies.

Relations have thawed somewhat since the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008, which India blamed on terrorists based in Pakistan.

The past two years have seen a gradual improvement in Indo-Pakistani ties with the decrease in cross-border attacks in the conflict-torn Kashmir region.

Author: Murali Krishnan

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