India, Pakistan defer signing of visa pact, discuss 26/11
India and Pakistan Friday agreed to step up cooperation between their investigative agencies on 26/11 and terror-related issues, but failed to sign the much-awaited pact on liberalising visa regime as Islamabad said it needed time for internal approvals.
In an important step to advance 26/11 justice, during the two-day talks between home secretaries of Pakistan and India, Islamabad agreed in principle to receive an Indian judicial commission for probe into the Mumbai terror attacks.
Pushing strongly for 26/11 justice, India also shared additional evidence against Hafiz Saeed, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai carnage.
During the talks, India conveyed to Pakistan about Islamabad's continued support to militancy against India and cited the activities of the Khalistan Zindabad Force in this context.
India's Home Secretary R.K. Singh held two-day talks with his Pakistani counterpart K.M. Siddique Akbar in Islamabad, but a pact for relaxing the visa regime could not be signed.
"Both sides welcomed the finalisation of the visa agreement and agreed to sign it at an early date," said a joint statement issued after the talks. "The Pakistan side informed that some internal approvals were under process and the agreement will be signed once they are in place," said the statement.
India aired its disappointment over the postponement of signing of the visa pact as Islamabad said the pact should be finalised at the political level.
"We had gone there prepared to sign the document according to what was decided during President Asif Ali Zardari's talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (April 8)," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters in New Delhi.
"We also have reports that the Pakistani side referred to some delay in its procedure and the Pakistan interior minister's desire for political participation" in signing of the visa pact, Mathai said.
"Both sides had attached a lot of importance on signing the visa agreement", he added.
The signing of the pact, according to informed sources, now can happen during External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's visit to Islamabad in July. It can happen earlier also if Home Minister P. Chidambaram decides to visit Islamabad.
The proposed visa regime is likely to include, among other things, tourist visas to each other's citizens and the issue of visas on arrival at the Wagah-Attari border for senior citizens and young children.
The signing of the pact had been postponed, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad. He, however, declined to say when it will be signed. The agreement involves important issues and should be finalised at the political level, he said.
Asked a question, Malik said that Chidambaram was welcome to visit Pakistan and that he "would be glad" if Chidambaram comes to Islamabad for the signing of the visa agreement. India pressed strongly for 26/11 justice and terrorism figured prominently during the talks.
The home and interior secretaries "agreed to enhance cooperation between the National Investigation Agency of India and the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan on issues of mutual concern, including the Mumbai terror attacks investigation," the joint statement said.
In another important side, the two sides agreed in principle to initiate negotiations on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). Islamabad has "agreed in principle to receive a judicial commission from India" to probe the 26/11 attacks, said the joint statement.
"In this regard, modalities, mandate and composition of the commission will be worked out through diplomatic channels.
The Pakistani delegation "provided an update on the ongoing trial and investigation in Pakistan on the Mumbai terror attacks" and reiterated its commitment to bring all the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously.
In Islamabad, Malik said the Pakistani authorities could not act on the basis of "hearsay" and that they would examine the evidence against Saeed.