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Pakistan and India will ease tough visa restrictions, an important step forward in improving relations between the nuclear armed neighbors, their foreign ministers said Saturday.
The agreement was the culmination of a visit by Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna to Pakistan as part of a tentative peace process that froze after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.
“A step-by-step approach is what will take the relationship forward,” said Krishna.
The new pact offers several different types of visa. Pakistanis visiting India have long grumbled about the restrictive visa regime for both tourists and businesses.
Pakistani business travelers are restricted to particular cities, so visitors cannot travel from Delhi to the nearby thriving business hub of Gurgaon without permission.
Business people also have to report to an Indian police station in the evenings “like a criminal”, Pakistani trade official Zafar Mahmood complained in April.
Indians visiting Pakistan face similar restrictions on moving between cities.
The two countries have gone to war three times since Pakistan split from India in 1947.
“We will not be held hostage to history,” said Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
In April, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited India, the first trip by a Pakistani head of state in seven years. Last year Pakistan promised India most-favored nation trading status.
But potential flashpoints between the two nations remain.
They include a long-running dispute over the mountainous province of Kashmir, currently divided between the two nations; Indian dams that Pakistanis say threaten their water supply and possible future attacks like those in Mumbai.
(Editing by Katharine Houreld and Robin Pomeroy)
Additional details on new visas (via AlJazeeraEnglish)
— Business visas from either country will be extended to travel to five cities, from earlier three cities.
— Those above the age of 65 and children up to the age of 12 will get a visa on arrival if they are travelling by land.
— And for the first time, both sides will issue Group-Tourist Visas and a special visa for pilgrims.