NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan on Wednesday closed the gap on a number of issues related to the Kartarpur Corridor, including travel papers required by Indians and the number of pilgrims who can visit the shrine, but the two sides could not reach an agreement at the third round of talks due to differences over modalities for operationalisation of the Corridor.
“Owing to certain differences on a few key issues, the agreement could not be finalised," one of the people familiar with the developments said. The contentious issues included Pakistan seeking a service fee for allowing Indian pilgrims to visit the shrine.
The Indian delegation for the meeting at Attari was led by a senior home ministry official and the Pakistan team was led 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.
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 there should not be any curb based on pilgrims’ faith as Guru Nanak was revered not only by Sikhs but also Hindus and Indians of other faiths.
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 agreed that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine 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 of 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, 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.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.