New Delhi: In a confidence-building exercise, the parliamentarians of India and Pakistan on Thursday held a wide-ranging dialogue that focused on easing the visa regime and the role of media in promoting peace between the two subcontinental neighbours.

The Pakistani parliamentary delegation, led by Senator Sabir Ali Baloch, deputy chairperson of the Pakistan Senate, engaged in intense discussions with Indian MPs led by Yashwant Sinha, a senior BJP leader and a former foreign minister, and Congress' Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Besides Sinha and Aiyar, many other Indian MPs joined the dialogue. They included Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Naresh Gujral, Kanimozhi, Kirti Azad, Supriya Sule and B.J. Panda.

The MPs from both sides discussed the opportunities of deepening ties between the two countries and focused the easing of the visa regime, the role of media, education and local government in promoting stronger relations between the two countries. They also reviewed and analysed the progress in the official dialogue between the two countries.

India and Pakistan have finalised an agreement for liberalising the visa regime, but the signing of this accord has been deferred as Islamabad is keen that such an important agreement should be signed at the political level between home ministers of the two countries.

"The Pakistani side informed that some internal approvals were under process and the agreement will be signed once they are in place," Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

The two-day India-Pakistan parliamentarians dialogue seeks to discuss all issues that affect bilateral relations and will focus on exploring ways to promote trade and boost people-to-people contacts with a view to bridging trust deficit between the two countries.

On Friday, the MPs are expected to discuss opportunities of collaboration in the area of health while also developing recommendations to enhance the scope of the MPs' Dialogue.

The parliamentarians are expected to press for a resolution of humanitarian issues, like the release of prisoners in each other's territory that has the potential to create a lot of goodwill between the two countries.

The dialogue is being facilitated by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), a think-tank that works for strengthening democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan.

The dialogue takes place weeks before External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna goes to Islamabad for talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to review the second round of dialogue after the two sides revived their ties following a long hiatus after the 26/11 terror attacks.

While Krishna and Khar will discuss contentious issues like terror and Kashmir, the two ministers are also expected to discuss strengthening of cross-border trade and travel linkages.

On Saturday, the Pakistani parliamentarians will leave for Patna where they will meet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.


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