NEW DELHI – India and Pakistan on Friday announced a new visa regime that will make cross-border travel easier as part of a thaw in their long-hostile ties.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik said tensions between the nuclear-powered rivals have eased a great deal since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 10 Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people.
The journey toward peace "is progressing very well because of growing interaction between the two governments," said Malik, who held talks with Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
Condemning the Mumbai attacks, Malik told reporters that non-state actors, a reference to extremist groups, were playing "havoc with both countries."
Shinde said Pakistan's promises in the past to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attacks have not been fulfilled. India claims the terrorists had ties to Pakistani intelligence officials, which Islamabad denies.
"I am thankful to you (Malik) for assuring India that you will cooperate in handing over the perpetrators to India," Shinde told reporters Friday.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Kashmir is divided between the two countries.
The new visa system will allow members of divided families, businesspeople, tourists and religious pilgrims to obtain visas quickly instead of waiting for months.
It will come into force in two phases on Jan. 15 and March 15, said a joint statement by the two ministers. Visas on arrival will be given to people over 65. Both countries say they aim to give visas to younger people within 45 days.
However, in a sign that improvements in ties will be a slow process, the TimesNow TV news channel reported that Malik's arrival in the Indian capital was delayed by more than three hours because of a security-clearance issue raised by India to a military plane used by the Pakistan minister.
"The pilots expect some kind of clearance. It got delayed. It was beyond me," Malik said.
There was no immediate comment from Indian authorities.
The issue of Hafiz Saeed is also expected to dominate Malik's talks in New Delhi. India accuses Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, for whom the US offered a $10 million reward this year, of being the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks. Asked about India's demand for Saeed's arrest and trial by a court, Malik said India has not provided credible evidence against him.
"There has been a lot of propaganda and pressure on us. I have received dossiers (from India) with only information," he said.
New Delhi says Saeed has been using Pakistan to campaign against India through public speeches.
Pakistani authorities arrested Saeed three times, but the courts found him innocent and freed him each time, Malik said.
Malik will also meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders before returning home on Sunday.