Chandigarh, Apr 18: As many as 80 Indian prisoners lauguishing in Pakistani jails have been identified and the Indian government would secure their release at the earliest, Minister of State for External affairs Anand Sharma said today.
Talking to reporters here, Mr Sharma said a large number of Indian youths were languishing in Pakistani jails and 80 of them had already been identified. ''We have gained consular access to them in various Pakistani jails and will secure their early release,'' he said, replying to queries over a large number of youths being misled by travel agents to gain access to other countries through fake documents.
On the Indo-Pak relationship, Mr Sharma said the bilateral ties had improved in the wake of the recent foreign policy intitiaves like opening of more bus routes between the two countries.
''Leaving behind the old eyeball to eyeball relationship, we want it to be a region of peace, stability and economic growth,'' he said.
Mr Sharma said a major effort had been made to improve people to people contacts with Pakistan ''as we believe that this is one way of healing the wounds of history.'' Easier visa facilities, improved communication links and the facilitation of visits to centre of pilgrimage were some of the confidence building measures put into place, he added.
To a question on the trade ties, Mr Sharma said the Indian government was in favour of movement of goods directly through the Wagah-Attari border instead of the longer Mumbai-Karachi route. But any decision in this regard could be taken with the concurrence of Pakistani government, he added. He said the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had issued 90,000 visas last year, of which about 15,000 were business visas.
Stating that the Ministry of External Affairs had taken several steps to improve passport and consular services, he said a new police would be unveiled soon to provide access to passports quicker and easier. There would be simlification of procedure with regard to identification and verification for getting passports.
It had also been decided to set up regional Passport Offices in Shimla, Dehra Dun, Rampur and Malapuram.
To a question, he said his Ministry would look into the problems faced by the people in Punjab in getting easy access to visas in the wake of opening of more bus routes but ruled out any move to set up a visa office in Amritsar.
Regarding the problem of people getting cheated by way of marriages with NRIs, he suggested that all such marriages should be registered. The parents of prospective bride and bridegroom could contact Indian missions abroad for getting information about such NRIs before they tied the knot, he added.