India puts group visa facility for Pak nationals on hold
The move comes a day after five CRPF personnel were killed in a fiyadeen attack in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir.
New Delhi: A day after five Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in a fiyadeen attack in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, India on Thursday said it will not start group tourist visa facility for Pakistan nationals from Friday as it scheduled.
As per the agreement between India's Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, group visa for Indian and Pakistani citizens was to be liberalised from March 15, 2013. But the Home Ministry, in a statement, on Thursday evening said that the facility won't start from Friday. "We are not going to operationalise the group visa facility to be offered to Pakistani nationals from tomorrow," said the Home Ministry.
No official reason has been given for the latest move. The Indian government has already put on hold visa on arrival facility for senior citizens - part of the new relaxed India-Pakistan visa agreement - hours before its operationalisation on January 15 following heightened tension along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week had said that the barbaric killing of Indian soldiers in Kashmir had cast a shadow on bilateral relations and asked Pakistan to create a conducive environment to take the normalisation process forward. Singh had said he was yet to see any "tangible progress" in dismantling of terror infrastructure in Pakistan and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Earlier also, the Prime Minister had said that it cannot be "business as usual" between the neighbours following the LoC incident. The Indian government is understood to have factored Wednesday's suicide attack on a CRPF camp in Srinagar, suspected to be carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist groups, before taking the decision. Five CRPF jawans were killed and 10 others injured in the incident.
According to the visa pact, group tourist visa would be offered for a period of 30 days to tourists travelling in groups with not less than 10 members and not more than 50 members, organised by approved tour operators or travel agents. The visa on arrival for Pakistani nationals above 65 years was supposed to start at the Attari Integrated Check Post.
The new visa agreement between India and Pakistan was signed in September, 2012 to ease cross-border travel as part of a number of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Some clauses of the relaxed visa regime like multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for businessmen and allowing them to travel to five cities instead of the earlier three were operationalised when Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited New Delhi in December 2012.
An Indian soldier was beheaded by Pakistani troops while the mutilated body of another was found in January along the LoC. New Delhi had lodged a strong protest over the killings.
(With additional information from PTI)