Pilgrim corridor: India, Pakistan start talking, put differences on table
Key differences on major aspects have emerged between India and Pakistan over the Kartarpur corridor as officials from both sides met for the first time at Attari Thursday.
From who should be allowed access to when and how, both sides had divergent views at the meeting to discuss modalities for pilgrims to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan through the proposed Kartarpur Sahib corridor.
The differences that emerged:
* While India wants 5,000 pilgrims to visit in a single day, Pakistan wants only 500 to 700 pilgrims daily, citing logistical constraints.
* New Delhi has asked for opening of the corridor on all seven days but Islamabad has proposed that it should be open only on designated “visiting days” every week.
* India has sought “visa-free access” but Pakistan has said that there should be special permits with a fee.
n India has asked that the corridor be opened to Indian nationals as well as those foreign nationals who have Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards but Pakistan has said it will allow only resident Indian nationals. OCI cardholders cover Sikhs from Canada, UK and other countries.
* India has asked that pilgrims be allowed to walk the distance so that they can soak in the ambience. But Pakistan has argued that pilgrims should only be ferried across by bus.
* Delhi has asked for allowing individuals as well as groups to travel but Pakistan wants to limit it to group tours.
While these are fundamental differences, both sides are said to have reached a “broad understanding” on allowing visits by people of all faiths — and not restrict it to Sikhs.
Both sides will meet again on April 2 at Wagah on the Pakistani side. On March 19, group of technical experts from both sides will meet at zero line to finalise the alignment of the corridor approaching from Indian and Pakistani side.
Joint Secretary in Ministry of Home Affairs S C L Das, who led the Indian delegation, told reporters at Attari after the meeting that keeping in view the spirit of the corridor, India had asked Pakistan that the pilgrims’ travel through the proposed corridor be “absolutely visa free” and without any “encumbrances”.
The Indian side, he said, also told Pakistan that besides the 5000 pilgrims every day, an additional movement of 10,000 pilgrims daily be allowed on special occasions.
A joint press statement after the meeting said: “The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft Agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held today at Attari, India in a cordial environment.”
Ministry of External Affairs’ Joint Secretary (Pakistan) Deepak Mittal, while responding to a query, said the meeting focused on the “people centric” issues.
Both Das and Mittal emphasized that today’s meeting did not mean resumption of bilateral dialogue between the two nations underlining that “terror and talks cannot go together”.
Responding to a query on pro-Khalistani activists in Pakistan, Mittal said India shared its concerns with the Pakistani team.