NEW DELHI : India and Pakistan on Wednesday managed to iron out several differences on a proposal to allow pilgrims through a corridor connecting two major Sikh shrines in the two countries but failed to sign a pact because of disagreement over at least two issues.

“The agreement could not be finalised because of certain differences on a few key issues," one of the people familiar with the developments said after the talks in Attari, Punjab.

Differences over travel papers required by Indian pilgrims as well as the numbers allowed to cross into Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor were, however, resolved during the third round of talks between the two countries on the modalities for the operationalisation of the corridor on Wednesday.

The Indian delegation at the meeting was led by a senior home ministry official and the Pakistani side by the director general (South Asia and Saarc) in the Pakistani foreign ministry. The corridor aims to connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, Narowal district, with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district and allow visa-free movement of pilgrims. The corridor is expected to open in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, in November.

The corridor could open a potential window for future engagements between India and Pakistan, according to analysts.

There was consensus on visa-free travel by Indian pilgrims, without any restrictions based on their faith, according to people in the know on both sides.

Pakistan was previously in favour of allowing only Sikh pilgrims to cross over to the Darbar Sahib Gurdwara. However, India pointed out that Guru Nanak was revered not only by Sikhs and Hindus but also Indians of other faiths.

People holding Persons of Indian Origin cards can also visit the Darbar Sahib Gurdwara using the corridor, according to the agreement reached on Wednesday.

Both countries also agreed that 5,000 pilgrims can visit Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor every day. On special occasions, more pilgrims would be allowed, “subject to capacity expansion by the Pakistan side", said a person familiar with the development. “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 the choice of visiting 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 the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers" for the purpose, the person said. They also agreed to share in advance the details of pilgrims using the corridor, said the person quoted above.

“Both sides agreed to ensure a 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. The Pakistan side was urged to reconsider its position," the person said.

On the infrastructure needed for the pilgrimage, “significant progress has been made", the person said. The infrastructure includes a passenger terminal on the Indian side to handle more than 15,000 pilgrims a day, to be completed by October. India is also building a four-lane highway up to the International Boundary, which is on schedule to be completed by the end of September, the person said.


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