Lawrence Saez is Chair, Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, United Kingdom, and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on India.  Lawrence Saez is Chair, Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, United Kingdom, and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on India. 

Recent trends have demonstrated a willingness by officials in Pakistan and India to reignite commercial relations between both countries. More importantly, there appears to be cautious optimism within the Indian and Pakistani business communities about the prospects for improved bilateral economic cooperation.

Anticipating this apparent rapprochement, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on India and their counterparts in the Global Agenda Council on Pakistan decided to join forces in identifying areas of mutual interest. Since the Summit on the Global Agenda 2011 in Abu Dhabi, there has been a continuation of joint efforts to express the best way forward for both countries to concretely embrace new approaches to their commercial and economic relations. This dialogue will continue at the upcoming Summit on the Global Agenda 2012 in Dubai.

The Councils share the view that the existing visa regime between the two countries is one of the most obvious obstacles standing in the way of improved economic relations. There have always been travel obstacles between India and Pakistan. However, these have become far more stringent since the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

While accepting India’s well-founded concerns that elements in Pakistan have supported groups that have carried out terrorist attacks on Indian soil, it is imperative to recognize that the Indian government’s restrictions for travel to India have exceeded any recognizable effort to prevent further terrorist attacks. The existing Indian visa regime, which imposes a two-month ban on re-entry, for instance, has created a strong disincentive to be a frequent visitor to India. The costs of these restrictions have hampered tourists, students, academics and businesspeople alike.

The situation for travel between India and Pakistan – particularly for citizens from those countries – have bordered on the Kafkaesque. In most instances, direct travel between India and Pakistan is a frustrating experience. Most travelers have opted to use the airport hubs in the Gulf as a transit route to travel between India and Pakistan.

Pointing to the absurdity of this visa regime, the Global Agenda Councils on India and Pakistan have recommended an immediate overhaul of the visa regime that has directly imposed economic costs on both countries. The Councils look forward to continuing their discussions on Indo-Pakistani relations in Dubai during the Summit on the Global Agenda 2012.

Image: Indian pilgrims wave to onlookers after arriving at the Wagah border in Pakistan REUTERS/Mohsin Raza