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Saarc deliberates visa reforms, human trafficking

Saarc deliberates visa reforms, human trafficking

ISLAMABAD: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation's (Saarc) interior ministers' moot met Wednesday with regional affairs, terrorism, prevention of drugs and human trafficking on the agenda, set in the backdrop of fresh developments and simmering tensions in the region.

According to Interior Ministry sources, Tuesday's session discussed visas and immigration, including plans to reform the visa regime in the bloc.

Wednesday's closed-door session with home ministers discussed counter-terrorism as well as strategies to counter human and drug trafficking.

Visa reforms on the agenda included a more streamlined and centralised system to process visas between Saarc countries as well as the potential introduction of Saarc Visa Exemptions (SVEs) for three categories: officials, artists and businessmen.

Officials from the armed forces were also in attendance after the Directors General of Immigration and other technical groups met on Tuesday, setting the agenda for Wednesday's session.

Resolutions on the issues discussed will go to voting tomorrow.

Bangladesh's home minister was notably absent at the conference as relations have still not normalised after Dhaka and Islamabad reciprocally expelled envoys last year. Bangladesh was represented by the foreign secretary instead.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh attended the Saarc meeting, confirming earlier rumours that a visit to Islamabad would not be called off despite strained relations over Kashmir.

The BJP government made it clear in the days leading up to the conference there would be no one-on-one bilateral talks with Pakistan.

Singh’s visit comes at a time when relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours are strained due to India’s suppression of protests which erupted over the extra-judicial killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Last week, reports said Singh would not meet one-on-one with his Pakistani counterpart or any other officials.

The conference takes place against the backdrop of protests in Islamabad's Faizabad area, with Hurriyat claiming Indian home minister Rajnath Singh is behind the recent killing and maiming in held Kashmir. A candle light vigil also took place in Lahore on Tuesday on the eve of the home ministers' moot.

Security was beefed up around the capital, with 1,500 extra personnel deployed at entry points to Islamabad.

At the concluding session of the envoys' conference held at the Foreign Office on Wednesday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said an 'objective assessment' of Pakistan's foreign relations since the PML-N government came to power "does not support the view projected in sections of the media that Pakistan is being isolated and its foreign policy lacks direction".

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