Azad Kashmir Spectator

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Visitors from Azad Kashmir can stay in India for six months Multiple-entry visas, India gave the Green Signal

New Delhi, March 26: India will not want Shahid Afridi’s boys to prolong their stay in the country by winning Wednesday’s match, but some others from across the frontier are welcome to longer visits.

New Delhi today “unilaterally” eased travel restrictions across the Line of Control (LoC) to increase people-to-people contact.

Visitors from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) can now stay in Jammu and Kashmir for up to six months and will be allowed multiple entries, the foreign office said.

The move comes a day after Manmohan Singh invited Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch the March 30 India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final at Mohali. Gilani and his wife are likely to come although an official confirmation is awaited from Islamabad.

Till now, the entry permit for cross-LoC travel remained valid for four weeks, with a provision for a two-week extension at the discretion of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

A further two weeks could be added in case of health or family emergencies if the foreign ministry and the state government so recommended.

The multiple-entry offer, too, is new: only one-time travel was allowed across the LoC on a single permit.

A foreign ministry statement said: “To encourage more people-to-people contact across the Line of Control, the Government of India has unilaterally decided to increase the stay period for the persons visiting Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) to six months with multiple entries.”

At their meeting in Thimphu in February, the two countries’ foreign secretaries had agreed that their governments should take steps to increase people-to-people contact.

Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir had also agreed that the two sides should resume dialogue on all issues, and that Bashir would visit India by July to review with Rao “the progress in the dialogue process”.

That meeting is to be followed by one between the two foreign ministers. But before all this, the two countries will have their bureaucrats meet and discuss a range of issues.

These include “counter-terrorism (including progress on the 26/11 trial in Pakistan), humanitarian issues, peace and security, including confidence-building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, promotion of friendly exchanges, Siachen, economic issues, the Wullar Barrage and Tulbul navigation project, and Sir Creek”.

As part of this “comprehensive dialogue”, the two home secretaries are scheduled to meet in New Delhi on March 28-29, that is, on the eve of the World Cup semi-final.

Sources said Singh might take the opportunity to discuss with Gilani, on the sidelines of the match, what “deliverables” can be achieved by July. More so, because the bureaucratic talks may become long-drawn given that both countries have lobbies opposed to the resumption of the dialogue process.
A young Pakistani fan at the Wagah border on Saturday. He is on his way to Mohali to cheer his team in the March 30 semi-final. (PTI)


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