India: Visa scheme for Pakistanis halted

2013-01-15 14:58

Amritsar - India's government suspended a new programme to allow Pakistani pensioners to get visas on arrival at the border, citing technical glitches only hours after officials said it had begun on Tuesday.

Home Secretary RK Singh told reporters the scheme, which was designed to issue visas on arrival to senior citizens from Pakistan, had been suspended until further notice.

"Couple of points have to be ironed out on that. There are technical issues, documents required. We will iron it out after consultation with other agencies," he said.

The suspension was announced the same day that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned neighbouring Pakistan that there "cannot be business as usual" between the two countries after last week's deadly flare-up in disputed Kashmir.

Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, a spokesperson for the home ministry, insisted to AFP that the decision over visas had "nothing to do with tensions along the India-Pakistan border".

India last week accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers, one of whom was beheaded. Pakistan denies its troops were to blame for any such incident.

Deal sealed last month

It says two of its own soldiers were killed by Indian firing in the last nine days along the Line of Control, the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir where a ceasefire has been in place since 2003.

The visa deal was sealed last month, when the interior ministers from both countries met in New Delhi and decided to institute measures making cross-border travel easier.

The new agreement was to allow Pakistanis aged over 65 to arrive at the Attari/Wagah land border dividing the Punjab region and apply for a single-entry Indian visa for a duration of up to 45 days.

An Indian customs official on the border, who declined to give his name, said earlier in the day that the process to issue visas had begun, but refused to say if any Pakistanis had made use of the facility yet.

The two countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947. They resumed talks two years ago, after New Delhi suspended negotiations following militant attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 that killed 166 people.