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FOREIGN Ministry spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal talking to journalists at the Wagah border crossing on Thursday.—AP
FOREIGN Ministry spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal talking to journalists at the Wagah border crossing on Thursday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India on Thursday held “constructive” dialogue on the Kartarpur Corridor agreement in a “cordial environment” and agreed to make the passage operational at the earliest.

The meeting of the Indian and Pakistani officials on the draft agreement at Attari (India) came at the end of a tense month in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack on Indian security forces exactly a month ago in which over 40 personnel were killed.

S. C. L. Das, joint secretary in India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, and Dr Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia & Saarc) at the Foreign Office, led the Indian and Pakistani delegations, respectively.

“Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor,” a joint statement issued by the Foreign Office and India’s ministry of external affairs said.

FO spokesman says dialogue yielded first joint press statement after a long time

Pakistani media could not cover the event as they were not given visas by the Indian government.

During the meeting, India demanded that the minimum number of pilgrims crossing the corridor to visit the shrine in Pakistan be raised to 5,000 and on special days like Gurpurab and Baisakhi 10,000 pilgrims should be allowed, Mr Das told Indian media. Moreover, Indians want the corridor to remain open throughout the year without any closed days. It was also demanded by the Indian side that pilgrims intending to visit the shrine on foot should be allowed to do so and there should not be any documentation requirement for the pilgrims.

The Indian side, according to the Indian media, also asked for disallowing any pro-Khalistan activities at the shrine. Pakistan will respond to the Indian demands at the next round of negotiations to be held on April 2 at Wagah on the Pakistani side.

Technical level discussions on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor were also held.

Another meeting of technical experts has been planned at the proposed zero points on March 19 to finalise the alignment.

India has emphasised that that negotiations on the corridor agreement should not be seen as bilateral dialogue.

“Let me make it very clear that Kartarpur talks are not in any way related to resumption of dialogues…It is related to emotions and sentiments of Indian citizens and our decision to meet reflects our strong commitment to operationalise Kartarpur sahab corridor,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Raveesh Kumar had earlier said.

On returning from the meeting, Dr Faisal tweeted that the talks yielded the first Pakistan-India joint press statement after a long time.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019