Tuesday, June 28, 2011


NEW DELHI: In a major decision ahead of secretary-level talks in New Delhi next week, India Saturday announced it was "unilaterally" easing travel restrictions and increasing the stay period for Pakistani Kashmiris who want to visit their families in Jammu and Kashmir.

"To encourage more people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control (LoC), the government of India has unilaterally decided to increase the stay period for persons visiting Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to six months with multiple entries," said a statement from the ministry of external affairs.

At present, the validity of the entry permit is for one month. The decision to extend the stay period was taken after the recommendations of the state government.
In certain cases, such as health or family emergencies, the stay period has been extended by a further period of two weeks.

The decision comes ahead of the India and Pakistan home secretaries meeting in New Delhi Monday and Tuesday. The officials are expected to discuss the trial in Pakistan of the Mumbai terror attacks case and investigations into the Samjhauta blasts.

India and Pakistan in April 2005 launched a bus service between Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The fortnightly bus service was part of the efforts of the two governments to foster peaceful and friendly relations and allow the divided families to meet each other.

The regional passport office in Srinagar is the designated authority to evaluate applications, verify identities and issue entry permits from the Indian side. However, procedures in getting the entry permits have reduced the number of passengers on the bus.

The Indian government has long been proposing the improvement of travel permit procedures, increasing the frequency of the bus service to weekly instead of a fortnight, and starting bus services connecting Kargil in India to Skardu in Pakistan, and Jammu with Sialkot in Pakistan. However, the Pakistani authorities have rejected the proposals.