Kartarpur Corridor: Visa-free access to 5,000 pilgrims daily

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Ground Report | Chandigarh

India and Pakistan narrowed their differences on the Kartarpur corridor in the second round of bilateral talks at Wagah on Sunday, with Islamabad allowing visa-free access to the shrine for 5,000 pilgrims daily.

Pakistan also has dropped its insistence that only Sikhs would be allowed to travel through the Kartarpur corridor and agreed to allow all Indian nationals along with persons of Indian origin (PIOs) having Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) identity cards to travel through the corridor.

Making major concessions, Islamabad also agreed not to allow Khalistani elements to use the corridor for anti-India activities. More importantly, Islamabad dropped its insistence on constructing a causeway on the corridor and agreed to build an all-weather bridge over the old Ravi creek.

“We have been able to narrow down differences in our respective positions since the first meeting held on March 14,” said Union home ministry joint secretary S C L Das, who led the seven-member Indian delegation, briefed the Indian media at Attari after the talks at Wagah.

Islamabad is yet to give any commitment on Indian proposal not to charge any fee or introduce any permit system for the pilgrims. The Pakistani delegation of 26 officials was led by foreign affairs spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal.

Das stressed that the security of Indians on pilgrimage to Pakistan was of paramount importance and added his team had handed over a dossier, prepared by security agencies on the activities of pro-Khalistan Sikhs in Pakistan, to the other side. The team also passed on details of ban on New York-based secessionist organization Sikhs for Justice.

“They assured us they would take note of the material we provided them and confirmed ouster of Gopal Singh Chawla from the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. They also said the corridor would not be allowed to be used for anti-India activities,” Das said. “There will be no let up, we will keep a close watch,” he added.

Both the sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards early finalization of agreement on the modalities. For the purpose, technical teams of both the nations would meet again to ensure seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor.

On the bridge-causeway standoff, the Pakistan team agreed to construct an all-weather bridge instead of causeway but that will only happen next year due to infrastructural and time constraints. India also provided a detailed flood analysis to bolster their argument. “The Indian delegation conveyed its concerns regarding possible flooding of Dera Baba Nanak and adjoining areas on the Indian side due to which an earth filled embankment road or a causeway, as proposed by Pakistan, would create problems for daily pilgrimage,” Das said. “We shared details of the bridge that we are building on our side and urged Pakistan to also build a bridge on their side, which they have agreed.”

The Rs 500-cr passenger terminal complex at Dera Baba Nanak will be completed by the deadline of October 31, 2019, according to an MEA spokesperson. The complex can handle over 5,000 pilgrims in a day.

The work on the Rs 120-cr four-lane highway to the crossing point at the international boundary will be completed by September-end.

Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh welcomed the outcome of the Indo-Pak talks on Sunday, but urged Pakistan to increase in the daily limit of 5,000 pilgrims to enable ‘khulle darshan’ to mark the historic occasion of the 550th birth anniversary celebration of Guru Nanak Dev. This is vital to ensure smooth flow of pilgrims on important days during the celebration period in November, he said.

The CM again raised demand for a special package from the Centre for the celebrations.