Pakistan, in principle, has agreed to build a bridge at Zero Line on the Indo-Pakistan border at Dera Baba Nanak at the earliest to facilitate the movement of pilgrims along the Kartarpur corridor, the Ministry of External Affairs said Sunday. The decision was taken after a two-hour meeting between the two sides met in Wagah to iron out the modalities of connectivity, the safety of pilgrims and infrastructural needs.
Till the bridge is constructed, India offered to make interim arrangements for making the corridor operational in November 2019, to mark the birth anniversary of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
So far, Pakistan had insisted on a causeway and were reluctant on building a bridge. India was of the view that not building a bridge would lead to flooding of Indian areas during monsoon when the Ravi river overflows.
Giving into India’s demand to allow 5,000 pilgrims each day, Islamabad also decided to allow visa-free travel for Indian passport holders. The Indian side also requested Pakistan to allow OCI cardholders visa-free movement along the corridor as well. Replying to a question about how many Indian Sikhs will be issued permit at the opening of the corridor in November, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said: “It may be 5,000 or 8,000…I cannot give the exact number. This has to be decided yet.”
India also underscored the importance of the safety of pilgrims travelling along the route. “Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed,” the MEA statement said.
The Indian delegation has also sought consular presence in Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara to be able to provide assistance to the pilgrims if required.
Pakistan also highlighted the infrastructural constraints on its side and added that they might be able to accommodate the pilgrims only in a phased manner. India has, however, asked Pakistan to reconsider its position considering a large number of pilgrims who want to visit the site. “Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan wants peace in the region. He is committed to open the corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak in November 2019,” Faisal added.
A delegation of 20 Pakistani officials led by Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal arrived at 9.15 am at the border to take part in the meeting. The Indian team comprised of SCL Das, Joint Secretary (Internal Security) and Deepak Mittal, Joint Secretary (PAI–Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) in Ministry of External Affairs.
Meanwhile, Pakistan dropped controversial Sikh leader Gopal Singh Chawla from its team that held talks with India. “Apparently, removal of Chawla is a damage control step by the Imran Khan government,” the official told PTI, adding that he had become so controversial that the Khan government was forced to revamp the whole PSGPC.
The second round of talks, which were scheduled on April 2, was cancelled by India after Pakistan nominated Khalistani separatists in the 10-member Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee.
Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur Corridor in Gurdaspur district. Two days later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Narowal, 125-km from Lahore.