NEW DELHI: In a significant move that could show the way for putting in place a liberal visa regime between them, India and Pakistan have agreed to do away with requirement of a visa to cross the border on both sides within a radius of 400 metres at the Attari-Wagah point in Punjab for Customs and other related border officials.
It was agreed that officials monitoring and administrating trade would be issued “special permits” to work within the 400-metre radius. At present, such permits are issued to drivers and workers to drive in and out of the border carrying goods and unloading them.
Now this special facility will be extended to certain officials, including Customs, on both sides to enable proper scrutiny, inspection and early clearance of goods coming through trucks.
However, this limited access is unlikely to be available to the BSF or Pakistan Rangers.
With a new trade regime likely to be in place in the next few months amid indications of major activity taking place on the land routes, India and Pakistan have gone ahead and decided to do away with the requirement for Customs and other related officials to have a visa to cross over into each other’s territory at the Wagah border.
“The Customs Border Liaison Committee (CBLC) of India and Pakistan decided during a recent meeting that officers working on the border would no longer require to have visa to work in a radius of 400 metres of each other territory,” say Commerce Ministry officials.
Earlier, any person wishing to even take one step into each other’s territory was requirement to get a visa for the same.
“This has been primarily done to facilitate more coordination at the border for carrying out various activities related to trade. Now officials, especially Customs, will be able to inspect trucks on both sides of the border. For this purpose, they will be issued special permits,” a senior official said.
Sources in the Pakistan camp confirmed the development.
The development comes close on the heels of the failure of both nations to ink a liberal visa regime during the recent Home Secretary-level talks held in Islamabad on May 24 and 25.
Interestingly, in a step forward, Pakistan recently notified that big containers and 22-tyre trucks from India would be allowed to cross over into its territory.
This would help in facilitating movement of goods on a large scale, officials said.
Pakistan had enhanced the list of goods that could be traded through the Wagah border from 63 to 137 items.
“Both sides also decided to set up a special working group that would go into the issue of allowing all items that are not part of the negative list to be traded through the Wagah border in view of the demand from the trading communities on both sides and opening of a Integrated Check Post on the India side,” the official said.
In March, Pakistan notified its negative list for India. After this, barring 1,209 items, India can now export all products to its immediate neighbour. In fact, traders of Punjab have stated that of the 137 items allowed, a majority of the products are already exported through Wagah and want the list expanded liberally. The items include livestock, carcasses, meat, vegetables, pineapple, pepper, raw cane, cement and yarn. At present, India exports items valued at Rs.1,500 crore a year through the Attari-Wagah route.