Pakistan on Sunday assured India “full cooperation" for the Kartarpur Corridor as the two nations embarked on a second round of talks on the project.
The assurance, which comes just two days after New Delhi flagged concerns over stonewalling by Islamabad, is a big diplomatic victory for India.
The project, which is a gateway for pilgrims to visit the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan and is scheduled to be completed by 31 October, could improve ties between the two countries.
India’s ministry of home affairs and ministry of external affairs (MEA) had on Friday raised doubts over Pakistan’s willingness to make the transition of pilgrims smooth. On Sunday, the MEA said, “India requested Pakistan that 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor everyday, given the expected high demand on our side."
India had red-flagged concerns of flooding in the corridor, which runs parallel to the Ravi river in Pakistan. Both ministries asserted on Saturday that India was building a bridge to avert any disaster, but Pakistan had only agreed to construct a “causeway" by way of building an embankment and said that was unlikely to prevent flooding.
Pakistan had been asked strictly to not construct the causeway even in the interim, S.C.L. Das, joint secretary, internal security, home ministry, said after the talks.
Pakistan has, however, extended cooperation to India, following Sunday’s meeting between the two countries.
“Details of the bridge that India is building on its side were shared and Pakistan was urged to build a bridge on their side. This would address flooding related concerns and ensure smooth pilgrimage. Pakistan agreed, in principle, to build a bridge at the earliest. As for the pending construction of the bridge over the old Ravi creek by Pakistan on their territory, India offered to make interim arrangements for making the corridor operational in November 2019, given the historic importance of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak," the MEA said on Sunday.
India and Pakistan held the second bilateral meeting over the Kartarpur Corridor at Wagah, in Pakistan, on Sunday morning. The Indian delegation was led by Das and Deepak Mittal, joint secretary, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran in MEA. The delegation of 20 Pakistani officials was headed by Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson of the country’s ministry of foreign affairs.
India is spending ₹500 crore on the project expecting a daily footfall of 5,000 pilgrims and 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions. New Delhi stood its ground on Sunday on the number of pilgrims and urged Pakistan to “have no restrictions on pilgrims in terms of their faith", while allowing “not only Indian nationals, but also the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) holding OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards to use the Kartarpur Corridor facility and said movement should be visa-free and Pakistan should reconsider charging any fee or introducing any permit system."
Pakistan has now finalized the draft agreement with regard to the modalities, allowing visa-free travel for the Indian passport holders and OCI card holders seven days a week, the MEA and home ministry said.
India’s home ministry is in the process of “setting up a high tech, fool proof security system around the corridor", to prevent infiltration or terror attacks.
The two ministries, which have been debating the security aspect of the pilgrimage, said that “concerns were shared regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims."
On Sunday, India handed over a dossier on security concerns to the Pakistan delegation. “The Indian delegation has also sought consular presence in Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara to be able to provide assistance to the pilgrims, if required. The Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed," Das said in Attari (India).