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July 15, 2019

80pc work done on Kartarpur Corridor

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July 15, 2019

ISLAMABAD: In a rare breakthrough, Pakistan and India Sunday held successful parleys at the Wagah border over finalising a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor.

Islamabad announced that 80 per cent of issues on the table had been agreed upon, while New Delhi announced that the formal meeting saw progress being made where there will be visa-free travel for Indian passport holders and OCI cardholders, seven days a week throughout the year. Pakistan will allow 5,000 pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara every day. Work is expected to be completed by October 31 this year, a week before the celebrations are expected to begin.

The second meeting was to discuss the modalities and draft agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor, and Pakistan says the meeting was held in a “cordial environment”.

"In my opinion, around 80 per cent and beyond has been agreed upon. We will allow year-long visa-free access to Indian pilgrims to the holy Gurdwara of Kartarpur. I cannot share further details until a final agreement has been reached. Another round of talks would be held to addressapproximately 20 per cent unresolved factors, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal told the media at the conclusion of talks.

The Pakistani delegation was headed by Dr Mohammad Faisal, who is also DG for South Asia and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, while the Indian delegation was headed by S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Later, Dr. Faisal planted “A Tree of Peace”, keeping in mind Pakistan’s Kartarpur Spirit” and to commemorate the spirit of cooperation and friendship of Pakistan’s Kartarpur initiative. In a tweet, the spokesman added some Urdu verses pointing to new leaves appearing on the branches in future.

While the spokesman took to Urdu poetry and refused to divulge further details of Sunday’s meeting, New Delhi did not shy away and briefed the media. The Indian media noted that pending construction of [a] bridge over old Ravi creek by Pakistan on their territory, India offered to make interim arrangements for making corridor operational in November 2019, given [the] historic importance of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji."

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement that discussions in this regard were conducted at the second formal meeting between the two sides that made progress on the modalities of pilgrimage and took up the presence of Khalistan supporters in the Pakistani territory.

“The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot,” stated a press release from the MEA emphasising that India had urged that the holy shrine should be open to its citizens of all faiths.

India also urged Pakistan to prevent Khalistan supporters from misusing this historic initiative. “Concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of pilgrims was shared.

A dossier was handed over to the Pakistan side to highlight concerns in this regard,” stated the MEA press note without explicitly naming the Khalistan supporters. India also urged Pakistan to allow “Nagar Kirtan” from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and in October-November 2019 as part of the celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru.

Later as details trickled in from New Delhi, the Foreign Office in a statement here stated, “The technical experts of both sides also discussed technical details of the corridor, including the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor”.

Pakistan agreed to the Indian request to construct a bridge in the second phase after the 550 anniversary celebrations. The bridge will be constructed in phase 2 due to time constraints with a creek pathway constructed in the interim period.

“In line with Prime Minister Khan’s commitment to operationalise the corridor for the 550th anniversary and spirit of constructive engagement, taking into account the sentiments of the Sikh community, Pakistan has decided to allow 5,000 pilgrims per day (to be increased as capacity allows) throughout the year except for closure on administrative or other basis which will be informed in advance,” added the Foreign office.

To further facilitate the pilgrims, Pakistan is building walkways to permit travel by foot from the start. Pilgrims may travel individually or in groups, preferably of 15 people each. The corridor, a peace initiative of the Pakistani government, is being constructed to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The corridor will provide Indian Sikhs visa-free access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan.

Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner. Both sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.

The technical teams would meet again to ensure a seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor is operational in time so that the pilgrimage can begin in November 2019. High-ranking Indian officials apprised the Pakistani side of the bridge India is currently constructing. The delegation urged that Islamabad should also build a bridge on the Pakistani side.

“This would not only address the flooding related concerns, but also ensure smooth, hassle-free, all-weather pilgrimage to the holy shrine, throughout the year,” said the Indian side. Security concerns for the pilgrims were also discussed by the Indian delegation.

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