Indo-Pak home secretary-level talks begin in Islamabad

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India-Pak
Islamabad, May 24: The two-day talks between Home and Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan began here on Thursday. Various quarters feel that the deliberations would focus on a relaxed visa regime and prosecution of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The Indian and Pakistani delegations were led by Home Secretary RK Singh and Interior Secretary Khwaja Siddique Akbar, respectively.

The last round of talks between the Home and Interior Secretaries was held in New Delhi in March last year. Prior to the talks, Indian officials had said the two sides had given the finishing touches to a new relaxed visa regime that would include, for the first time, tourist visas, visas on arrival for senior citizens and children and year-long multiple-entry visas for businessmen. The two secretaries are expected to ink the pact at the conclusion of the talks on Friday, official sources said.

However, some reports in the Pakistani media had claimed that the visa agreement was unlikely to be signed as the Pakistani cabinet did not approve it at its last meeting held on Wednesday. The reports said Interior Minister Rehman Malik had not brought the agreement before the cabinet for approval. The Nation, a Pakistani daily, quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry official saying that the authorities had decided to delay signing of the new visa agreement till the next meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries. The two countries have been working on the draft of the new visa agreement for over a year.

The inclusion of National Investigation Agency chief SC Sinha and other key officials, who are involved in the probe of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in the Indian delegation, is a clear indication of New Delhi's intention to push for the prosecution of the perpetrators of the terrorist assault. Seven Pakistani nationals, including Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, have been indicted for planning, financing and facilitating the deadly attacks that killed 166 people in November 2008. However, their trial in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi has been stalled for over a year due to various technical reasons.

Despite the visit of a Pakistani judicial delegation to Mumbai in March to gather evidence and record the statements of key Indian officials, no headway has been made in the trial in recent weeks. The Indian side will also reiterate the demand for action against LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, for whom the US recently offered a 10 million-dollar bounty.

The Indian side will also discuss other issues related to terrorism, drug trafficking, presence of Indian fugitives like Indian Mujahideen leaders and mob boss Dawood Ibrahim, networks involved in circulating fake Indian currency and humanitarian issues like release of prisoners held in jails of both countries.

It may be mentioned here that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to India on April 8, had stressed the need for Pakistan to take firm action to curb terrorism to enable India to move forward with bilateral ties. Singh also asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. The Pakistani side is also expected to ask India to take action against those responsible for the bombing of the Samjhauta Express train, which killed nearly 70 people, including 42 Pakistanis.

PTI

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