India seeks visa-free access to pilgrims
ATTARI/NEW DELHI, Mar 14: India and Pakistan today agreed to work towards expeditiously” launching the Kartarpur corridor, a decision taken at a meeting held after the recent escalation in tensions between the two countries.
The first meeting between the two sides to finalise the modalities for the proposed corridor linking Gurdaspur in Punjab with the Sikh shrine in Pakistan’s Kartarpur took place in a cordial environment, a joint statement said.
The two delegations met on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border.
India has sought visa-free access to the Kartarpur shrine, and suggested that 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit every day.
“There should not be any additional encumbrances in the form of any additional documentation or procedures, S.C.L Das, joint secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs who headed the Indian team, told reporters.
He said as a first step, the two sides agreed that the passport shall be the identification document for the pilgrims.
Islamabad is expected to respond to Indian suggestions at the next meeting, scheduled for April 2 at Wagah on the Pakistan side of the border.
Technical experts from both sides will meet earlier, on March 19.
Kartarpur Sahib marks the place where Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev, spent the final years of his life. India hopes that the special border crossing for pilgrims will open before his 550th birth anniversary in November.
“The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held today at Attari, India, in a cordial environment,” the joint statement issued after the meeting said.
“Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor,” it said.
The meeting took place amid heightened tensions between the two neighbours following India’s air strike on a terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in retaliation to a JeM attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama that martyred 44 jawans.
An Indian official told reporters in Attari that the meeting did not mark the resumption of the dialogue with Pakistan.
The 20-member Pakistani team was headed by Mohammad Faisal, Director General (South Asia and SAARC) of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On his return, Faisal tweeted, “Pakistan Kartarpur Delegation returns after constructive discussion in a cordial environment.”
“From our side, we have pressed for at least 5,000 pilgrims per day to be allowed to visit the holy shrine in the initial phase,” the Indian delegation leader said.
“This will include not only Indian nationals but people of Indian origin as well,”Das added.
India has asked Pakistan to allow pilgrims to travel on foot, if they wish. It also urged that another 10,000 pilgrims be allowed access on festivals like Baisakhi and Gurupurab.
India plans to create infrastructure for that number on its side of the corridor, the Pakistani team was told.
Last November, India and Pakistan agreed to set up the new border crossing.
Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four kilometres from the border.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on November 26 laid the corridor’s foundation stone in Gurdaspur.
Two days later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore. (PTI)