India Welcomes Lifting Of U.S. Travel Restrictions

July 7, 2008 - 8:11 PM

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - A U.S. decision to lift restrictions on travel by American citizens to India has brought cheer to the tourism industry and business sector.

Acknowledging the easing of tensions in the subcontinent, the State Department said Monday U.S. officials would also again be allowed to "travel freely on official business." But travel should still be avoided near border areas between India and Pakistan, it said.

The U.S. continues to warn citizens not to travel to Pakistan, where Islamic militants have threatened reprisals after the convictions of four men involved in the abduction and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl.

Already affected by regional security fears following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, India's tourism industry was particularly hard hit following the decision by the U.S. and several other countries in May to advise their citizens to avoid travel to South Asia because of fears of war between India and Pakistan.

Last week domestic airlines here slashed fares by 40 per cent to boost travel.

Another sector badly affected by the tensions and travel warnings was computer software. The U.S. has been the primary market for Indian software, accounting for more than 60 per cent of exports.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies welcomed the U.S. decision.

"We are very thrilled with the announcement since the travel advisories had been acting as a major deterrent in business," said the body's president, Kiran Karnik. "Decision-making was being postponed and delayed, and customer visits were restricted."

The U.S. announcement, released through the embassy here, said government personnel in non-crucial posts and family members who left India under the "authorized departure" order in early June were now being allowed to return. U.S. diplomatic missions were expected to return to operating at normal staffing levels soon.

The statement noted that Indian and Pakistani forces remain mobilized along the borders, and said that while tensions between India and Pakistan had subsided, "the risk of renewed increased tensions cannot be ruled out."

Tensions flared following a terrorist attack on India's parliament last December, and saw both sides amass troops along the borders while leaders exchanged verbal threats.

Following intensive diplomatic efforts, Pakistan promised to stop Pakistan-based terrorists from slipping across into Indian territory - especially in disputed Kashmir - and tensions subsided somewhat, although attacks against Indian targets have continued.

The State Department continues to warn Americans to avoid travel to Kashmir and other areas close to the international border between the two traditional foes.

Britain has also lifted travel restrictions on its citizens traveling to India, and at the same time has eased restrictions on visits to Pakistan.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said while it was no longer necessary for British citizens to avoid travel to India, because of continued risk of terrorist attacks citizens not of Pakistani original were still urged to avoid all "non-essential" travel to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani newspaper has reported that Islamabad had learned that terrorists, including some affiliated to al-Qaeda, had entered the country in recent days to prepare to attack India's high commission (embassy) there, as well as the embassies of some European countries.

Indian defense analyst M.K. Laul said Tuesday he doubted any attack on the mission would occur, and so increase tensions once again between the neighbors.

He noted that security of the high commission was the responsibility of the Pakistan government, and it was aware that any attack would reflect badly on Pakistan.

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