LAHORE: Pakistan claims making headway on “80 per cent and beyond” issues in the much-delayed second round of talks with India on the opening of the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims by the 550th birth anniversary of founder of Sikh religion Baba Guru Nanak.
The talks were held at the Wagah border where a 13-member Pakistan team was led by Saarc and South Asia desk Director General and Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal, while an eight-member Indian team was headed by interior joint secretary S.C.L. Das.
“…The meeting built upon the discussions from the first meeting held in Attari in India on 14th of March. We had in-depth and productive discussion on the proposed draft agreement and agreed to expeditiously finalise the modalities for operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib corridor in time for the 550th celebrations,” Dr Faisal told the media at the conclusion of the talks.
He said technical details were also discussed but avoided sharing the information because of “international [diplomatic] norms” that bar making public details before a final agreement.
The technicalities included a procedure for the entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims, their currency limit, transportation, medical emergency facilities and duration of stay at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.
Dr Faisal, however, told a questioner that “the two sides have reached a consensus on 80pc and beyond points regarding the opening of the corridor, while the rest of 20pc issues would be addressed in the at least one more upcoming meeting”.
He said Pakistan was fully committed to operationalising the Kartarpur corridor before the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in November.
Responding to a question about the number of pilgrims to be allowed to cross over to Pakistan to visit Kartarpur Sahib, he avoided giving a specific number and said: “We’ll go up to the maximum possible capacity and physical arrangements [to accommodate the pilgrims] whether these are enough for 2,000, 5,000 or 8,000 [pilgrims]. Our intentions are clear, we’re willing and it’s Pakistan prime minister’s initiative.”
Indian media has been reporting that New Delhi wants permission for at least 5,000 pilgrims per day and up to 10,000 on special occasions. Indians also want no visa or permit bar and eventually levying of any application processing fee as well as lifting the restriction that the pilgrims can visit only in at least 15-member groups and that they have to ride a bus and cannot come on foot.
Dr Faisal said “it will be too early to say”, when asked if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be invited to the corridor’s opening ceremony likely to be held on Nov 2.
The India team left without taking part in planting a neem sapling at the border as a symbol of peace on the excuse of ‘paucity of time’. Dr Faisal said the aim behind opening the corridor was establishing peace and improving ties between the two bordering countries.
The second meeting on the corridor was to be held on April 2, but it was delayed after India objected to the composition of the Pakistan team. They reportedly demanded removal of Gopal Chawla and four other representatives of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee. Mr Chawla was then replaced with Ameet Singh, besides making four more new nominations from the Parbhandak committee in the list Islamabad shared with New Delhi a day ago.
The amended list of committee members notified by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony on Saturday included Sardar Ravinder Singh, Sardar Andar Jeet Singh, Dr Mampal Singh and Sardar Ameet Singh from Punjab; Sardar Baba Harmeet Singh, Sardar Sarabat Singh and Sardar Sutwant Singh from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Dr Sagarjeet Singh and Sardar Wikash Singh Khalisa from Sindh and Sardar Sagar Singh from Balochistan. The notification says the Evacuee Trust Property Board chairman will be convener of the committee.
Answering a question about a dossier given by the Indian side on the composition of the Pakistan team, Dr Faisal acknowledged it but said they had given at least 12 dossiers to the Indians and unfortunately not a single one was responded.
Meanwhile, a statement earlier issued by the FO said that 70 per cent of the construction work on the Pakistani side of the Kartarpur corridor had been completed.
Islamabad has formed a high-level committee comprising Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar and federal ministers Sheikh Rashid and Noorul Haq Qadri to monitor the arrangements for the opening of the corridor and the birth anniversary celebrations.
The Times of India quoting Press Trust of India claimed that Pakistan had agreed to visa-free travel for Indian passport holders. It said India conveyed its concerns regarding possible flooding of Kartarpur Gurdwara due to the construction a causeway by Pakistan and urged it to build a bridge like India did.
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019