Dedicating the newly-built Integrated Check Post (ICP) on Attari border to people on both sides of the divide, union home minister P Chidambaram said on Friday that to improve ties India had finalised a new liberal visa regime with Pakistan and he hoped Pakistan would reciprocate soon.
"We have already finalised a new liberal visa regime for Pakistan wherein easy visas will be given to businessmen, children, the elderly and spouses," the home minister, who inaugurated the ICP, said. "I have been told that before finalising their liberal visa regime, Pakistan has to take it up in its cabinet. I hope that it is through soon and in a couple of months both countries sign the liberal visa regime."
Stressing that wars divide while trade unites, Chidambaram said the ICP had the potential to boost trade between the two nations.
"I would like to ask the commerce ministers of both India and Pakistan to create such an environment that all barriers are removed," he said.
As Pakistan is still not using the new gate for its passengers, the home minister said, "I appeal to Pakistan that it must use the ICP for passengers as it offer better facilities."
He said there may be some hiccups in the smooth functioning of the ICP initially but he would come back in 6-8 weeks to take stock so that all issues are resolved.
On a question regarding cross-border narcotic smuggling, he said it was important to wean Indian and Pakistani youngsters from drugs. "Once there is no demand, the smuggling will also be curbed," he said. "However, vigil is high to curb the smuggling."
Pakistan commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim applauded the manner in which both nations had shown the will to move forward on trade.
"This ICP is a new start and both nations can get an economic boost from this," Fahim said. "It is a trade route between both Punjabs (India and Pakistan) that can strengthen Delhi and Islamabad."
Commerce ministers of both countries have already decided in principle to give multiple visas to traders, he said.
India's commerce minister Anand Sharma stressed that it was time for both countries to move forward. "You take one step forward, we will take two steps," he said, looking at the Pakistani contingent.
Sharma said the restriction put by Pakistan that only 137 Indian items should be allowed through Attari border should be removed.
Terming the day as historic, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said, "Both Punjabs have suffered a lot in the past and many lives were lost in Partition. But today this ICP has given new hope and we feel that trade is the only opportunity both Punjabs have for prosperity."
Besides trade, the ICP would also strengthen the countries' social and cultural ties, he said.
Badal urged Pakistan to give the Most Favoured Nation Status to India and remove restrictions on Indian exports through Attari.
He said if 5,000 Indian items are allowed through Mumbai port, they must be allowed from Attari as well.
Demanding a transit route for Indian trucks, the chief minister urged Pakistan to upgrade the ICP on its side and sought a liberal visa regime for Punjab MLAs. Badal appealed to Chidambaram that the Hussainiwala border must also be opened for trade and a visa centre set up at the Attari ICP.
He asked both union governments to allow a direct corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the historical gurdwara associated with Guru Nanak Dev at Sri Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.
Pakistan Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif said wars in the past had taken India and Pakistan nowhere.
"We must forget the past and move ahead," he said. "This ICP can be a game-changer and we must not leave this opportunity."
Stressing that both nations show further political will to improve relations, Shahbaz, who is the brother of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said, "I want that restrictions must go away. I will invite people from Indian Punjab for kabaddi matches." He said Pakistani authorities would work on setting up a similar ICP at Ganda Singh Wala, the Pakistani village near the Hussainiwala border.
Union minister of state for planning Ashwani Kumar, Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab cabinet ministers Bikram Singh Majithia, Anil Joshi, Gulzar Singh Ranike, and Bhagat Chunni Lal, and senior Punjab Congress leaders RL Bhatia and Sunil Jakhar were also present for the inauguration.