A month after Pulwama, India, Pakistan take up Kartarpur

Indo Asian News Service

Attari (Punjab), March 14 (IANS) Officials from India and Pakistan on Thursday held "detailed and constructive" discussion on the Kartarpur corridor which will enable pilgrims from India to travel to the Sikh shrine inside Pakistan through a dedicated corridor.

The meeting took place exactly a month after the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF troopers were killed.

"Both sides held detailed and constructive discussion on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalizing the Kartapur Sahib Corridor," a joint press statement issued after the meeting on Thursday said.

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 on Thursday at Attari, India, in a cordial environment, the statement said.

The Indian delegation was led by S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Pakistan delegation was led by Dr Mohammad Faisal, DG (South Asia and SAARC) of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Both sides also held expert-level discussions between the technical experts on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor," the statement said. It was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on April 2.

This will be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on March 19 at the proposed zero points to finalize the alignment.

The 18-member Pakistani delegation arrived at Attari near Amritsar via the Attari-Wagah joint check post land border on Thursday morning to finalise modalities of the corridor to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara.

"Commitment to fulfil a dream!" is how Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar referred to the crucial dialogue on Twitter, once the meet kicked off.

Officials of the MHA, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), National High Authority of India and other related departments represent the Indian side at the talks. India has made it clear that the meeting was in no way a resumption of a bilateral dialogue.

"It is not any resumption of bilateral talks, let me make it very clear that it is not in any way a resumption of a bilateral dialogue," the MEA spokesperson said earlier.

The Ministry has said the issue relates to emotions and sentiments of the Indian citizens of the Sikh faith and its decision regarding the meeting reflects a strong commitment to operationalise the corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Sources said security aspect was of paramount importance and there will be no dilution in that. India is wary of the Pakistan establishment's direct and indirect support to pro-Khalistan elements who would like to take advantage by reaching out to pilgrims from India.

They have also said that Pakistan will also be conveyed that places of pilgrimage should not be used for separatist propaganda by anti-India elements.

India is keen for visa-free access to the pilgrims to the historic Sikh shrine across the border. Officials from both sides were also expected to discuss the alignment of the project as there is some mismatch in the coordinates.

"Continuing with our spirit of constructive engagement and flexibility and in line with our sincere efforts to deescalate the situation for regional peace and stability," Faisal told Pakistani media before leaving for India for the talks.

He said that this was the first in a series of meetings. "We hope this initiative of the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) will not only facilitate Sikhs, especially from India, but will be a step forward in the current direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship," he added.

The Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province, located 4.5 km from the border near the Dera Baba Nanak town in Punjab's Gurdaspur district, is significant for the Sikh community as it is here that Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years of his life and is his final resting place.

The governments of India and Pakistan are trying to facilitate the travel of pilgrims to offer prayers at the gurdwara -- a demand made by the Sikhs for the past over 70 years.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has demanded "passport and visa-free 'khule darshan' for pilgrims".The union government has already announced the setting up of a Rs 190-crore state-of-the-art Passenger Terminal Building Complex at Dera Baba Nanak, with its design inspired by the symbol "Khand", which symbolises values of oneness and humanity.

It will cater to about 5,000 pilgrims per day with provision to cater to additional 10,000 pilgrims during festivals.

--IANS

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