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Flight hiccup before visa regime
Mix-up delays Pak minister

New Delhi, Dec. 14: “Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Air Force,” the pilot made the call sign as the C-130J military transport aircraft from across the border entered Indian airspace a few minutes after 5.30pm today.

It would have done so three-and-a-half hours earlier but for a backroom mix-up in the Indian establishment that left the Indian Air Force (IAF) unaware till early afternoon that Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik would be arriving in a Pakistan Air Force plane.

Eventually, Malik’s plane landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport instead of the Palam technical area, where VVIPs’ aircraft land and take off from, and at 5.40pm instead of the scheduled 2pm.

The minister has arrived on a three-day visit to announce a much-touted revised visa agreement between the neighbours.

Till this morning, the IAF believed that Malik would arrive in a civilian aircraft and, accordingly, had permitted landing at the Palam technical area, which is about 2km from the international airport.

Sources said the home ministry and the foreign ministry knew that Malik would be coming in a military plane but had failed to inform the air force.

When the IAF was eventually told, it refused to issue an “air defence clearance” that would have allotted a unique number to the aircraft and allowed it to land in the technical area.

Officials said there was no delay over Indian or Pakistani airspace, which means it was Malik’s take-off that was held up.

“The delay was from Islamabad itself because of the mix-up and a denial of permission for a military aircraft to land (at the Palam technical area),” a source said.

Malik, who was received by junior home minister R.P.N. Singh, pre-empted questions on the Mumbai attacks that could have overshadowed his “friendship” mission.

“We have no love lost for Hafiz Saeed (founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba whom India blames for the Mumbai attacks),” he promptly said.

“If I get the information (evidence against him) today, before I leave from here I will order his arrest.”

Later, announcing the visa agreement, Malik said Pakistan would take all steps to ensure that the plotters of the Mumbai attacks were brought to justice. He said seven persons had been arrested and 20 declared proclaimed offenders.

Shinde at the launch of the visa deal

Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said Pakistan had made promises in the past too but failed to live up to them. “I am happy the interior minister has made promises today and we hope they will be fulfilled.”

Malik will visit Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya’s shrine in New Delhi during the trip.

In March 2011, a C-130J Pakistan Air Force plane had landed at the Chandigarh airbase when then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani came to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final at Mohali.

The new visa agreement will facilitate multiple entry, reporting-free visas for businessmen, and allow visa on arrival for the elderly. The new agreement replaces a 38-year-old tardy visa regime.

Malik said people travelling from Wagah to Lahore would get a “complimentary (bus) ride”. Travellers will be allowed to visit five cities instead of three.

The new regime will waive police verification for business visa holders with an annual income above Pakistani Rs 50 lakh (about Rs 28 lakh) or an annual turnover above Pakistani Rs 3 crore (about Rs 1.67 crore), a government statement said.

“Now entry and exit from different designated immigration check posts can be allowed, if indicated in the application. However exit from Wagah-Attari on foot cannot be accepted unless the entry was also on foot via Attari-Wagah,” it said.

Visa on arrival to citizens over 65 years will start in four weeks from January 15.