IN THE shadow of escalating tension in their ties, India and Pakistan on Thursday held in a “cordial environment” their first meeting to finalise the modalities for a corridor linking Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistani town of Kartarpur with Gurdaspur district in Punjab. During the meeting, India sought visa-free access from Pakistan for 5,000 pilgrims per day to the historic Sikh shrine in Kartarpur. “From our side, we have pressed for at least 5,000 pilgrims per day to be allowed to visit the holy Sikh shrine in the initial phase,” S C L Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, told reporters. A joint statement issued after the talks said both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the project and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartapur Sahib Corridor (KSC). The meeting took place on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border.
“The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur corridor was held on Thursday at Attari, India, in a cordial environment,” it said. Das said Delhi wanted access for both Indians and people of Indian origin to the shrine, located where Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev spent the last years of his life. “We have also strongly urged them to allow the visit of pilgrims for all seven days a week without any break,” he said after the meeting. India emphasised that the corridor should be absolutely visa-free, Das said. “There should not be any additional encumbrances in the form of any documentation or procedure,” he added. India also wants Pakistan to allow devotees who want to travel on foot to the shrine across the border.
The meeting took place amid heightened tensions between the two neighbours following India’s air strike on a terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Pakistan’s subsequent retaliation. It was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on April 2 and it will be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on March 19 at the proposed zero points to finalise the alignment of the corridor, according to the statement. Last November, India and Pakistan agreed to set up the border crossing linking Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur - the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev - to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district. Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine.
The Indian delegation at the meeting was led by SCL Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs while the Pakistani team was headed by Dr Mohammad Faisal, DG (South Asia and SAARC) of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartapur Sahib Corridor,” the statement said. Technical experts from both sides discussed the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district. Two days later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.