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India-Pakistan liberal visa regime kicks off; Malik equates terror with Babri

Posted on Dec 15, 12:51PM | IANS

India and Pakistan Friday made operational a liberalized visa regime for more people-to-people contact as Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik struck a discordant note by equating terror attacks with the Babri Masjid demolition.

The visa announcement was made after talks between Malik and Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde shortly after the former began a three-day visit to India.

But even while preaching peace with India, Malik made controversial remarks - first on Babri Masjid and then by being dismissive about Kargil martyr Saurabh Kalia's death.

He also questioned the Indian evidence on Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed vis-a-vis the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

"Pakistan and India have to be friends," Malik told reporters on his arrival, which was delayed by about four hours. "I come with a message of love and peace from the people of Pakistan."

He underlined that India and Pakistan had travelled a long distance since the Mumbai attack when their relations touched a new low.

Malik said because of interactions between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the "journey to peace is progressing very well", and gave credit to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"We are all here to take the peace process forward," he added.

But Malik remained adamant that the evidence provided by India thus far linking Saeed with the Mumbai attack was not enough to stand scrutiny in a court.

"Just a statement from (hanged Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir) Kasab is not enough. We have to follow the law of the land. And of course (satisfy) the court... There has been a lot of propaganda about Hafiz Saeed.

But if India provided credible evidence, "I will order his arrest even before returning home. We have no love lost for Hafiz Saeed".

He later said that Pakistan had arrested seven people for the Mumbai attack and another 20 had been declared proclaimed offenders.

"We will not leave any stone unturned. The day is not far away when you will see convictions (in the Mumbai case)."

On terrorism, the Pakistani interior minister said his country was suffering from terror attacks too. "Terrorism is horrible.. ask the people of Pakistan who are suffering at the hands of non-state actors... (we should) forget the past and move forward," he said,

Then in the same breath, he added: "Terrorism brings grief, we do not want a 9/11, Bombay blast, Samjhauta Express blast, Babri Mosque demolition. We want peace not only in India and Pakistan but in the region."

On India's charges that Pakistanis had tortured and mutilated Indian soldier Kalia during the 1999 Kargil conflict, Malik said: "When a fight is going on the border, we really don't know whether he was killed with a Pakistani bullet or he died because of the weather."

Kalia's father has taken his son's torture-killing to the Supreme Court, saying Pakistan should be told to apologize. He has also approached the UN Human Rights Commission asking it to probe his son's death as a war crime.

On Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman who was hanged Nov 21, Malik said "we have respected" the Indian court judgment on his hanging.

The new liberalized visa regime would make travel easier for some sections including the elderly, the young and those in business.

It is expected to boost people-to-people contacts and trade.

The visa agreement was signed by then Indian external affairs minister S.M. Krishna and Malik in Islamabad Sep 8.

"When (Indians) enter Pakistan, they should feel they are coming to their own home," Malik said. "Similar should be the case when people of Pakistan enter India."

Malik also invited the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan.

He will call on Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj Saturday. He is also tipped to meet National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.