ISLAMABAD   -  Pakistan is optimistic that India will soon return to the talks table as Prime Minster Imran Khan prepares to lay the foundation stone of Kartarpura corridor tomorrow (November 28), officials said.

Senior government officials told The Nation that Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked the diplomats to step up efforts for talks with India to resolve the bilateral issues.

One official said Prime Minister believed the formal talks might not happen until a new government takes over in India next year but the diplomats can prepare ground for the ‘bigger dialogue’ in the meantime.  He said the premier was hopeful that the opening of the Kartarpura corridor will help the two countries come closer.

Another official said the two countries would first work on improving the trust level which has spoiled all the previous dialogue process. “Once we start to trust each other, issues will start to resolve.

There is a feeling on both the sides that eventually, we will have to settle all the issues through talks,” added the official.

Last week, Pakistan and India announced they would develop Kartarpura corridor in their respective areas, linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan with Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, is located across the Ravi river in Pakistan and is about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab in India. The corridor, once built, will give Indian pilgrims easy access to the shrine.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had extended an invitation to Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj Swaraj, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to attend the ceremony at Kartarpura on November 28.

Swaraj herself declined the invitation but two of her cabinet colleagues will attend the ceremony. India will send Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri for the event.

Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also declined Pakistan’s invite for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Kartarpura corridor, citing Line of Control tension. Indian Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu will however, attend the historic event.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has meanwhile welcomed the decision of the Indian government to send two of its ministers to attend the Kartarpura ceremony.

He said India responded positively to Pakistan’s initiative to bring the Sikh community closer.

Qureshi said Kartarpura corridor would attract members of Sikh community to Pakistan from across the globe including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Three super powers, the United States, Russia and China, have already backed Pakistan’s decision to build the Kartarpura corridor to facilitate the Indian Sikh yatrees (pilgrims). Over the weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoped the Kartarpura corridor would act as a bridge between the peoples of India and Pakistan.

He even referred to the fall of the Berlin Wall to underline the importance of the corridor.

The issue of Kartarpura Sahib came into focus after Indian Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu visited Pakistan in August to attend the oath-taking ceremony of his cricketer-turned-politician friend Imran Khan as the prime minister of that country.

After his return, Sidhu said that Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had told him that the country may open a corridor to Kartarpura Sahib. The Pakistan-India ties nose-dived in recent years with no bilateral talks taking place.

The nuclear armed neighbours, having fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947, regularly trade allegations of harassment and espionage against diplomats.

Tensions between Pakistan and India have been high since the killing of a Kashmiri freedom fighter, Burhan Wani, in July 2016. An attack on Indian forces in September 2016 - that killed 19 soldiers in Uri area of held Kashmir - further heightened the tensions. India also claimed it had carried a “surgical strike” to avenge the Uri attack. Pakistan rejected the Indian claim.

In January, Pakistan extended the MunaBao, India-Khokhrapar, Pakistan rail link agreement with India for another three years.

Pakistan agreed to extend the agreement from February 1, 2018, to January 31, 2021. The agreement was signed in 2006.

Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan had always taken the lead to promote peace in the region.

“We have been calling for a dialogue with India. It is India that is running away,” he contended.