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Pakistan unveils new ‘friendly’ visa policy for Afghanistan

REPORT-4-ENG-01-10-2020-Pak (1)

Pakistan introduced Tuesday a new visa policy for Afghanistan to facilitate business and people-to-people contacts between the two countries.

Officials said the travel document, approved by the federal cabinet, will make it easy for Afghan citizens to acquire multiple entry visit visas, including those for long-term business, as well as investment and student visas.

Until now, Islamabad was issuing only one-time entry visas to Afghan visitors.

Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq, noted in a tweet that a “new category of health visa” also has been enacted to enable Afghan patients to receive visas on arrival at the overland border.

Sadiq said all border terminals with Afghanistan, located in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province, have been opened to pedestrian traffic four days a week, beginning Tuesday.

Landlocked Afghanistan has for decades relied mostly on Pakistani overland routes and seaports for bilateral as well as international trade. Mutual tensions, however, have significantly undermined bilateral trade activities in recent years.

Officials expect the new visa and trade-related steps will help expand bilateral economic ties and address concerns often raised by Afghan traders, students and Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

Peacemaker visit

Islamabad announced the string of what officials described as “confidence building measures” as Afghanistan’s chief peacemaker, Abdullah Abdullah, is on an official visit to Pakistan.

Ahead of Abdullah’s arrival, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also approved the opening of 12 trade markets near the Afghan border to provide livelihood opportunities to poverty-stricken populations in and around the remote region.

Abdullah and his delegation held a meeting Tuesday with Khan in which the two sides reviewed bilateral ties and Afghan peace efforts.

“I also thanked the government of Pakistan for today’s initiative to further facilitate visa services for Afghanistan nationals; a testament to the existence of strong & growing bonds between our two nations,” Abdullah tweeted late Tuesday after the meeting.

History of mistrust

Pakistan hosts about 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, who have fled 40 years of violence, religious persecution and poverty in their conflict-torn country.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have long suffered from mutual mistrust and suspicions. The two countries share a nearly 2,600-kilometer border, and each accuses the other of sheltering militants involved in subversive acts on their respective territories.

“I am confident that we are on the threshold of a new era in bilateral relations based on mutual respect and sincere cooperation for shared prosperity,” Abdullah told a gathering of diplomats, officials and civil society representatives at a state-run think tank in the Pakistani capital Tuesday.