NEW DELHI, Aug 3: India and Pakistan on Tuesday inched closer to agreement on a series of measures to boost people-to-people contact, officials of both sides said.
Pakistan proposed that the Delhi-Lahore bus service should be supplemented with a Lahore-Amritsar service to enable older people to travel by train or other comfortable means for the longer part of their journey.
Among the other proposals discussed on the first day of their meeting the two delegations found a convergence of interest on a host of ideas. These included an early release of civilian prisoners languishing in each other's jails. This will require the help of their respective home ministries.
Both sides considered the idea of exempting certain categories of visitors from police registration upon arrival as visitors. They include journalists, businessmen and senior citizens.
A new proposal concerning cooperation in agriculture-related technical visits also featured and appeared to have been readily accepted in the talks. Scientific research in agriculture namely in wheat and cotton crops is sought to be shared mutually along with other environmentally useful knowledge.
Visas for the number of religious travellers would be increased. "The talks were cordial and held in a friendly atmosphere", India's Culture Secretary Neena Ranjan, who led the Indian side, said. Her Pakistani counterpart Syed Jalil Abbas agreed.
The talks will conclude on Wednesday, possibly with a joint statement. Mr Abbas, who is the Federal Secretary for Tourism, Culture, Religious Minority and Youth Affairs, stressed the need for both sides to enhance cultural exchanges.
Ms Ranjan said there was no difference of opinion on the issues taken up. Both sides shared the view that people from the two countries were very keen to normalise ties. Promotion of friendly exchanges is one of the eight subjects in the composite dialogue process.
Relations at a popular level have warmed immensely this year after thousands of Indians travelled to Pakistan to watch their cricket team tour there, with many fans overwhelmed by the hospitality they received, adds Reuters.
"There is a great deal of yearning among the people of the two countries to see the other," said Kalim Bahadur, who teaches foreign relations at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"There is a shared history that Pakistanis and Indians both want to visit and re-visit," he said. "There is already a perceptible cooling-off because of the divergence on Kashmir," said Bahadur. "They will take incremental steps in these talks; you cannot expect a major advance."
TALKS ON SIACHEN: The two countries will hold two-day talks on Siachen as part of the composite dialogue process between the two countries here from Thursday (August 5), adds APP.
An eight-member Pakistan delegation headed by Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (Retd) Hamid Nawaz Khan arrives here on Wednesday for the talks with their Indian counterparts.
Another top-level Pakistani delegation headed by Rear Admiral Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudhry, Additional Secretary of Defence Division, would reach New Delhi to hold discussions on Sir Creek on Aug 6-7. Talks on terrorism and drug trafficking are slated to be held on Aug 10-11.