ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is yet to implement the visa agreement it signed with India last month, though India has already begun enforcing the new policy.
The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was told on Friday that delay in putting the agreement in force had been caused by the interior ministry, which was yet to present it before the cabinet for ratification.
During a committee meeting, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the delay at the ministry was “procedural in nature”.
Unsatisfied with the explanation, committee chairman Haji Adeel censured the ministry for moving slowly on the matter.
“This is sheer negligence on the part of the ministry and those responsible should be held accountable,” Mr Adeel said. The delay ran contrary to the desire for improvement in bilateral ties, he added.
The agreement was signed on Sept 8, during Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Pakistan. The signing of the accord, which was ready in May, had initially been delayed because of Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s insistence on inking it at “the right time and at the appropriate level”.
The liberalised visa accord allows for issuance of visas to the elderly and children on arrival. It facilitates visas for group tourists and allows for issuance of multiple-entry visas to businesspeople.
The signing of the agreement was practically the first step towards easing the travel restrictions between the two countries since 1974, when the old visa regime came into force.
In the absence of Mr Malik, a mid-ranking official representing the ministry and other top officials assured the committee that the accord would be sent to the cabinet division next week. Apparently the agreement would remain for a couple of weeks with the cabinet division before making it to the cabinet for approval.
The cabinet had given a nod to the pact before it was signed.
The committee meeting adopted a resolution calling on the cabinet to immediately ratify the bilateral accord.
Sources in India, meanwhile, told Dawn that the country’s ministry of external affairs had decided to implement the agreement despite the delays on Pakistan’s part.
The overhauled visa regime became fully effective in India this week, while some of the easier steps requiring less official procedures were made effective soon after the signing ceremony.
UN team’s visit
The Senate committee also discussed the recent visit of a delegation of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. Contrary to the initial criticism by parliamentarians, who described the visit as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, most of the committee members, including Chairman Adeel, praised it.
Ms Khar said there were no sinister intentions behind allowing the delegation’s visit. “All stakeholders were consulted.”
She said visits of the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the UN Group had all been approved by the government after concurrence of all the stakeholders.
She agreed that the UN group’s visit was not properly reflected in the media, but insisted that by allowing the visit the government had demonstrated its commitment to promoting human rights, addressing violations and explaining its perspective on the issue (of disappearances).
Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said the visit had improved Pakistan’s image and would help it in achieving EU’s GSP+ preferential market access regime.