The second round of talks held between Indian and Pakistani officials at the Wagha-Attari border on the Pakistani side has made significant progress in finalizing modalities for the Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate Indian pilgrims to visit the historic Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Narowal district of Pakistan across the border. The 16th century Gurudwara is of immense historic and religious value as the founder of Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev ji settled down in his later years and breathed his last at this place in 1539. After protracted negotiations, amidst tensions between India and Pakistan, hope for fulfillment of the long cherished desire for pilgrimage of Darbar Sahib Gurdwara emerged when Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone for the Kartarpur Corridor on 26th November 2018 near Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab and on 28th November, 2018 Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan held the ground breaking ceremony near the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara.
The first round of talks between India and Pakistan on the Corridor was held in March this year. Three rounds of discussions have also been held between Technical Committees to sort out issues concerning the project. India objected to the presence of pro-Khalistani elements in the team constituted by Pakistan for negotiations, which Islamabad had removed before the second round of talks, conceding to New Delhi’s demand. During the second round of talks, New Delhi also emphasized the need for ensuring safe and secure environment for the pilgrims. The Indian delegation handed over a dossier to Pakistan on the individuals or organizations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims. Pakistan assured India that no such elements would be allowed to use the corridor for anti-India activities.
Contrary to its earlier stand of allowing only 500 to 700 pilgrims a day, Pakistan has agreed to allow visa free travel to 5,000 pilgrims every day, both for the Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders throughout the year to Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara. They will be allowed to travel in conveyance or on foot as individuals or in groups. During the talks India reiterated its demand to allow 10,000 additional pilgrims on special occasions and that there should be no restriction on the pilgrims in terms of their faith. Guru Nanak Dev ji’s teachings have universal appeal both Sikhs and Hindus pay their obeisance at the holy gurudwaras in Punjab and elsewhere. Having similarities of culture, Islamabad knows this fact well and should therefore ensure that there is no restriction on the pilgrims in terms of their faith.
Pakistan had earlier raised the issue of charging the pilgrims a fee for their visit to the Darbar Sahib Gurudwara and also showed its intent to introduce a permit system for the pilgrims. India has again asked Pakistan to reconsider on these two counts.
Pakistan pointed to the infrastructural constraints on its side and said it may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner. But it agreed in principle to build a bridge over the old Ravi creek at the earliest instead of a causeway as it proposed earlier. Pakistan agreed to construct the bridge on its side as being done by India in its territory, after the Indian team shared a detailed flood analysis, with Pakistani delegation, expressing concerns over flooding in the area making it unworthy for the pilgrims.
Both sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the Agreement on the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. The technical teams would meet again to ensure a seamless connectivity for the pilgrims to visit the holy Gurudwara. It is hoped that Kartarpur Corridor would be operational in time by November 2019; so that the pilgrimage can begin before the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev ji on 12th November this year.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator