Four days after Delhi informed Islamabad it was downsizing its mission staff strength by half and asked it to do the same, Pakistan Saturday made a sudden offer to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib pilgrim corridor on June 29.
Noting that it was being given a two-day notice as against the mutually agreed 7-day notice for travel, India said it would evaluate the offer before making any announcement, and that Pakistan was trying to create a “mirage of goodwill” by proposing resumption of the pilgrimage suspended in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The pandemic forced the government to order closure of public places and the pilgrimage via the corridor was suspended on March 16. The corridor, which opened in November last year, was used by 44,951 Indian pilgrims until January this year.
On Saturday morning, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in a Twitter post, said: “As places of worship open up across the world, Pakistan prepares to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for all Sikh pilgrims, conveying to the Indian side our readiness to reopen the corridor on 29 June 2020, the occasion of the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.”
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry issued a statement, saying “Pakistan has conveyed its readiness to the Indian side to reopen Kartarpur Corridor… the corridor was temporarily closed on 16 March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As religious places are gradually opening up around the world, Pakistan has also made necessary arrangements to reopen Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for Sikh pilgrims.”
“To ensure adherence to the health guidelines, Pakistan has invited India to work out necessary SOPs for reopening of the Corridor,” it said.
Sources in New Delhi said “cross-border travel has been temporarily suspended as part of measures to prevent and contain the spread of coronavirus. Further views would be taken in consultation with health authorities and other stakeholders concerned.”
“It is to be noted that Pakistan is trying to create a mirage of goodwill by proposing to resume the Kartarpur corridor on June 29, at a short notice of two days, while bilateral agreement provides for information to be shared by India with the Pakistan side at least seven days before the date of travel. This would need India to open up the registration process well in advance,” sources said.
“Besides, Pakistan has not built the bridge on their side across the flood plains of Ravi river despite having committed to it in the bilateral agreement. With the advent of monsoon, it would need to be evaluated whether pilgrim movement is possible through the corridor in a safe and secure manner,” sources said.
On June 23, India asked Pakistan to reduce the strength of its High Commission in New Delhi by half, and said it would do the same at its mission in Islamabad within a week.
This is a fallout of tensions between the two sides in the past few weeks over intimidation and harassment of diplomats.
The decision was taken after two Indian High Commission staffers were detained by Pakistani authorities and released only after New Delhi protested. Last month, India expelled two officials of the Pakistan High Commission for spying in Delhi.
Ten months ago, Pakistan had downgraded bilateral ties after India revoked the special status granted to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370.
After Indus, a possible constant
The inauguration and functioning of Kartarpur Sahib corridor have survived the slide in bilateral ties — its suspension is only because of the pandemic. It is already being seen as one of the few constants in an otherwise turbulent relationship between India and Pakistan, apart from the Indus Waters Treaty which has survived wars and terror attacks. One-upmanship over the pilgrim corridor threatens to upend this initiative.
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