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New era starts with flutter

- Mix-up over Pak minister flight

New Delhi, Dec. 14: “Pakistan Airforce, Pakistan Airforce”, the Pakistan air force pilot named the call sign as the C-130J military transport aircraft entered Delhi’s airspace a few minutes after 5.30pm today.

It was only after a backroom mix-up, however, that a trouble-free landing for the crew led by Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik was ensured at 5.40pm at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Use of a military aircraft and lack of communication about it led the Indian Air Force to deny Malik landing rights at the Palam Technical Area where VIPs land and take off.

Malik arrived on a three-day visit today to announce a much-touted revised visa agreement between the two countries.

The pact would facilitate multiple-entry and reporting-free visas for businessmen, besides allowing visa on arrival for the elderly. The new agreement would replace a 38-year-old tardy visa regime signed in 1974 by the two countries.

Announcing the new regime, India’s home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said: “This new visa regime will pave the way in promoting people-to-people contact. We have already issued circular to all Indian missions abroad and state governments notifying the introduction of the new visa regime.”

Malik was quick to reciprocate: “Time has come to forget the old days. This visa regime will take bilateral relations forward. It will bring good trade, will remove this miscommunication... This is not only a historic step but a step forward for peace that we are looking for generations.”

The new agreement would help businessmen, allowing them to visit five cities instead of three under the older system. It would exempt police verification for businessmen with an annual income above Pakistani Rs 5 million or annual turnover above Pak Rs 30 million or equivalent in Indian currency travelling on business visa, a statement issued on the occasion said.        

Under the new regime, visa on arrival to citizens over 65 years will start in four weeks from January 15. The visa will be for 45 days with single entry at the Attari-Wagah checkpost.

The two countries had signed the new regime on September 8 with an aim to facilitating travel for nationals of both countries and promoting people-to-people contact. The two countries would also operationalise from March 15, 2013, the group tourist visa for a period of 30 days, which would be issued to tourists travelling in groups of 10-50.

Malik’s visit was not without its share of some anxious moments. Officials said there was no delay over Indian airspace or even Pakistan airspace. Scheduled to arrive at 2pm, confusion arose due to the nature of aircraft that Malik was using and the place of landing. During General Pervez Musharraf's visit in 2001, such mix-ups were avoided as he had landed at Jaipur and then headed to Ajmer.

Once received by junior home minister RPN Singh, Malik did not waste any time in sensing the mood. Pre-empting questions on the 26/11 attacks that threatened to overshadow his projection of the “event” of announcing “friendship”, Malik promptly said: “We have no love lost for Hafiz Saeed. If I get the information today before I leave from here, I will order his arrest.”