India to ease travel permits for Pakistani KashmirisBy IANS
Friday, January 14, 2011
NEW DELHI - The government will “unilaterally” ease travel restrictions and give multiple-entry permits valid for six months to Pakistani Kashmiris who want to visit their families in Jammu and Kashmir, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said Friday.
Pillai said Pakistan did not agree to the Indian government’s idea to ease travel curbs on families divided across the Line of Control - the de facto border that divides Jammu and Kashmir between the two neighbours.
“We will do it unilaterally now. People from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (as Pakistani Kashmir is officially referred to by India) can have multiple entry one permit (to travel to Jammu and Kashmir) so that they don’t have to re-apply whenever they want to visit their divided families again,” Pillai said, adding the permit would be valid for six months.
“After six months, you can apply for another permit and the government won’t insist on security clearance for the second time.”
This, he said, was being done as part of confidence building measures to win the trust of people in Jammu and Kashmir - the valley last year saw a bloody summer agitation in which 112 civilians were killed in clashes with security forces.
India and Pakistan in April 2005 launched a bus service between Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The fortnightly bus service was part of the efforts of the two governments to foster peaceful and friendly relations and allow the divided families to meet each other.
The regional passport office in Srinagar is the designated authority to evaluate applications, verify identities and issue entry permits from the Indian side.
However, procedures in getting the entry permits have reduced the number of passengers on the bus.
The Indian government has long been proposing the improvement of travel permit procedures, increasing the frequency of the bus service to weekly instead of a fortnight, and starting bus services connecting Kargil in India to Skardu in Pakistan, and Jammu with Sialkot in Pakistan. However, the Pakistani authorities have rejected the ideas.
Pillai said the Indian government wanted to reach out to more Pakistani people to develop more people to people contact between the two neighbours.
“We are encouraging this despite the security risks and you know people to people interaction is at a very high level. People from art and culture, parliamentarians are travelling,” Pillai said.