LAHORE/Islamabad   -  Officials from Pakistan and India who met at Wagah border yesterday to do the spadework on Kartarpur corridor succeeded in evolving consensus over 80 percent of the issues relating to the matter.

They also agreed to resolve the remaining 20 percent issues in another round of talks to take place on some mutually agreed date in the near future.

According to an official statement released by the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, the second meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held yesterday at Wagah, Pakistan, in a cordial environment.

The Pakistan delegation was led by Dr Mohammad Faisal, Director General South Asia of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Indian delegation was led by SCL Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The meeting built up on the discussion from the first meeting held in Atari, India on 14 March 2019. Both sides had in-depth and productive discussions on the proposed draft agreement and agreed to expeditiously finalise the modalities for operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor in time for the 550th anniversary celebrations.

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 5000 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. 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 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.

The Pakistan delegation planted a sapling to commemorate the spirit of cooperation and friendship of Pakistan’s Kartarpur initiative. Talking to the media after the negotiations at Wagah border, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said around 80 percent of points have been agreed upon between the two sides.

“In my opinion, around 80 percent and beyond has been agreed upon,” he said, adding he could not share the details until a final agreement is reached between the two countries. He, however, termed the outcome of the meeting a positive development.

Dr Faisal said that another round of talks would be held to sort out the remaining 20 percent unresolved issues. He had no precise date of the next meeting though.

Foreign Office spokesperson further stated that under the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan Pakistan was fully committed to materialising the Kartarpur Corridor into a reality for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November this year. Dr Faisal said 70 percent of work on the Gurdwara complex, terminal building and road had been completed.

To a question about the number of pilgrims to be allowed through the Corridor, Dr Faisal said Pakistan would allow maximum number of pilgrims as per capacity of the facilities provided at the Gurdwara.

“We will do whatever will be possible, but I cannot go into the figures. Our intention is clear and before you. We are willing. This is the prime minister’s initiative and we will go up to the maximum possible limit,” he maintained.

He also said that as the objective was to make Kartarpur Corridor a ‘corridor for peace’, Pakistan was trying to overcome the mutual differences. “If God willing, this is an effort towards the very direction,” he remarked.

India had earlier pulled out of the second bilateral meeting scheduled to be held at Kartarpur on April 2 this year. It had then showed its concern over inclusion of pro-Khalistan activists [Gopal Chawla and Bisan Singh] in Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, a body tasked to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims.

Opening of Kartarpur Corridor is a peace initiative of Pakistan to provide visa-free access to Indian Sikhs to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur. Pakistan wants its completion by November this year to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

INDIA WANTS BRIDGE ON RAVI

Following the talks, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that the Indian side had asked Pakistan to allow 5,000 pilgrims to cross the corridor daily to visit the Gurdwara while an additional 10,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit on special occasions, ANI news agency reported on Sunday. Additionally, they requested that Persons of Indian Origin with OCI [Overseas Citizenship of India] cards be permitted to use the Kartarpur Corridor facility.According to ANI, the ministry also shared with its Pakistani counterparts details of a bridge India was building on its side and urged Pakistan to build a bridge on its side. India believes it would address flooding related issues and ensure smooth pilgrimage. Pakistan agreed, in principle, to build bridge at the earliest.