New Delhi: India and Pakistan closed on gap on a number of issues including travel papers required by Indian pilgrims as well as their numbers crossing into Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor between the two countries but failed to clinch a pact due to some differences during the third round of talks on the modalities for operationalisation of the corridor on Wednesday.
At the meeting at Attari, the Indian delegation led by a senior home ministry official and the Pakistani side by Director General (South Asia and SAARC) in the Pakistani foreign ministry. The corridor aims to connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims. The corridor is expected to open in time to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, in November. Analysts also say the corridor could help a potential window for future engagement between India and Pakistan
“Owing to certain differences on a few key issues, the agreement could not be finalised," one of the people famailri with the developments said.
According to people in the know of the matter on both sides, there was consensus on visa free travel of Indian pilgrims, without any restrictions based on their faith.
Pakistan was previously in favour of allowing only Sikh pilgrims to cross over to reach the Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district. India had insisted that Guru Nanak was revered not only by Sikhs but Hindus as well and Indians of other faiths as well so all should be allowed to cross over.
According to the agreement reached on Wednesday, people holding the Persons of Indian Origin card too can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Corridor.
Both countries also agreed that 5,000 pilgrims can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Corridor every day. On special occasions, more numbers would be allowed to cross over, “subject to capacity expansion by Pakistan side," a person familiar with the development cited above said. “Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible," the person said.
“The corridor will be operational throughout the year, seven days a week. Pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot," the person said.
The two countries also agreed on emergency evacuation procedures, especially medical emergencies with “a direct line of communication between Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers" for the purpose, the person cited above said. They also agreed to share in advance the details of pilgrims using the corridor and this decision was endorsed by both the sides, the person said.
“Both sides agreed upon ensuring safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims. Pakistan has been requested once again to allow protocol officers from India to accompany pilgrims every day for facilitating their visit," the person said. This has been a sticking point between the two sides.
Pakistan has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims, the person said.
However the two sides could not agree on some key issues that held up the finalisation of a formal pact.
“Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing Pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit smooth and easy access through the Corridor. Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of Indian Consular or Protocol officials at the Gurdwara premises. Pakistan side was urged to reconsider its position," the person cited above said.
On the infrastructure needed for the pilgrimage, “significant progress has been made," the person said. The infrastructure included a passenger terminal on the Indian side to handle over 15,000 pilgrims in a day. That is to be completed by October. The Indian government is also working on a four lane highway up to the International Boundary which is on schedule, the person said adding this is to be completed by end of September.