Pakistan assured India on Subday that it won’t allow pro-Khalistani elements to use the Kartarpur Sahib corridor for anti-India activities as the differences between the two countries narrowed down at the second round of bilateral talks at Wagah with Islamabad allowibg visa-free access to the Sikh shrine for 5,000 pilgrims every day of the week.
Earlier, Pakistan was insisting on allowing only 500 to 700 pilgrims in a day and it was not clear whether the corridor would remain opened every day of the year.
Making major concessions, Pakistan also dropped its insistence on allowing only Sikhs and agreed on letting all Indian nationals, along with persons of Indian origin (PIOs) having overseas citizen of India (OCI) identity cards, travel through the corridor. Significantly, 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,” joint secretary in the Union home ministry, S C L Das, who led the seven-member Indian delegation, told the Indian media at Attari after the Wagah talks.
Das stressed that the security of Indians on the pilgrimage 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. The team also passed on details of the recent ban by India on New York-based secessionist organisation Sikhs for Justice.
He said the Pakistani delegation assured that they would take note of the material provided to them by India and confirmed the ouster of pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla from the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, which plays a significant role in facilitation of pilgrims. “They also said the corridor would not be allowed to be used for anti-India activities,” Das said, adding, “There will be no let up, we will keep a close watch.”
However, Islamabad is yet to give any commitment on the Indian proposal not to charge any fee or introduce a permit system for the pilgrims.
Both the sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards early finalisation of agreement on the modalities. For this, technical teams of both the nations would meet again to ensure seamless connectivity for the corridor.
On the bridge-causeway standoff, the Pakistani team agreed to construct an all-weather bridge instead of causeway but that will only happen next year due to infrastructure and time constraints. “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 to.”
India urged Pakistan to allow 10,000 additional pilgrims on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak under the 1974 Protocol, but Pakistan cited infrastructural constraints.
A ministry of external affairs spokesperson said the Rs 500-crore passenger terminal complex at Dera Baba Nanak will be completed this year by the October 31 deadline. The complex can handle over 5,000 pilgrims in a day.
The Pakistani delegation of 26 officials was led by foreign affairs spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal.