India on Thursday asked Pakistan to step up the pace of legal proceedings against alleged perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, saying it had provided Islamabad with additional evidence against the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed that could be used for his prosecution.
The fresh Indian demand for action by Pakistan against Hafiz Saeed came on the first day of two-day Indo-Pak interior secretaries’ talks that commenced on Thursday. Interior Secretary Khawaja Siddique Akbar is heading the Pakistani delegation in whereas the Indian side is being led by Indian Home Secretary RK Singh and the negotiations are focused on terrorism, drug trafficking, Mumbai attacks, Samjhauta Express blast and ‘new liberalized visa regime’ between the arch rival nuclear neighbors.
According to an official privy to talks, the two sides made progress in the finalization of new visa regime pact and they are expected to reach some deal on it today (Friday). However, he said that an announcement about the breakthrough on liberalized visa regime could be held back to be made later by the foreign ministers of the two countries who would meet in July this year.
The Indian side also raised the issue of Indian national Sarabjeet Singh, who is imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of spying and demanded his release. At the end of day first talks, the Indian home secretary said during his interaction with reporters that the Indian side had provided additional evidence against Hafiz Saeed and other perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks.
“This evidence could be used by Pakistani authorities to prosecute the Mumbai attacks’ perpetrators,” he said. He also expressed concern over what he dubbed as slow and tardy pace of proceedings in the case. He said the Pakistani judicial commission that visited Mumbai in March this year had also collected evidence against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Singh said the 2008 Mumbai attacks should not be equated with the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express train. “The assault on Mumbai was an incident of cross-border terrorism while the train bombing had occurred within India,” he said.
He said the Indian authorities had arrested and charge-sheeted those responsible for the b Samjhauta Express blast.
Singh also expressed his concern over the ‘slow pace’ of legal proceedings against the Mumbai attacks’ perpetrators even before the commencement of talks on Thursday.
In his brief media chat before the commencement of talks, he said, “To us, it seems that the progress in judicial proceedings against those charged with involvement in the Mumbai incident is very slow and even many persons who are the actual accused have not been brought before the courts.”
Interior Secretary Akbar, however, termed the Mumbai attacks’ proceedings as a legal and court-related matter and refrained from commenting. Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan, however, said in his reaction that “our position on Hafiz Saeed is clear. We have independent and active courts. If anyone has proof against him, they should share it with us so that the courts can examine it”.
According to officials, the liberalized visa regime, if finalized, would allow non-extendable 30-day “Group tourist visas” to be issued to groups of 10-50 individuals for tours organized by an approved operator or travel agent.
The families of individuals married to a national of the other country will be eligible for two-year, multiple entry visas. One person will be able to report to police on behalf of the entire family.
The new visa protocol also eases travel for businessmen. ‘Category A’ businessmen, with an annual turnover of Pakistan rupees five million or more will get a one-year multiple-entry visa and will be able to travel to 10 places. ‘Category B’ businessmen, with an annual turnover of half a million Pakistan rupees will be eligible for a one-year visa with up to four entries, and can travel to five places. Businessmen will not have to go to the police station to report their presence; they can send a representative.
Visa-on-arrival for senior citizens (65 years and above), which both countries had agreed upon some years ago, will now be implemented. This facility will also be available to young children (12 years and below). They will be given a visa for 45 days. Holders of this category of visa will be exempt from reporting to police.
The number of cities that a normal visitor can go to is being increased from the existing three to five. The current entry-exit point restrictions that limit entry and exit to the same point will be relaxed to allow entry and exit through any point.