A day after the first meeting between India and Pakistan on the development of Kartarpur corridor, New Delhi accused Islamabad of “surreptitiously usurping” land belonging to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in the name of developing the corridor.
Official sources said the Indian delegation has lodged a strong protest with their Pakistan counterparts against the “rampant encroachment” on the land belonging to the Sikh shrine.
The encroached land was donated to Kartarpur Sahib by the late Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and others.
India also accused Pakistan of “double-speak” after the latter objected to most of the Indian proposals. “Pakistan has lived up to its old reputation of making false promises, making tall claims and delivering nothing. Its double-speak on the Kartarpur Sahib corridor has been exposed in the first meeting itself at Attari on Thursday,” said a senior government official, who was part of the deliberation.
“Lands owned by the gurdwara have been surreptitiously usurped by the government of Pakistan in the name of developing the corridor. A strident demand was made by India for restoration of these lands to the holy gurdwara urgently, keeping in view the strong sentiments on the issue within India,” the official said.
Pakistan wanted to restrict the duration of Kartarpur agreement to two years despite India making it clear that it is executing long-lasting facilities at the border by spending Rs 190 crore.
“Against the hype created by the Pakistan government and the Pakistan media, its actual offer during the talks turned out to be farcical and mere tokenism. There is a sea of difference between what Pakistan, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, had announced, and in what they offered at the Attari meeting. Clearly, Pakistan is not interested in providing Indian pilgrims easy access to Kartarpur Sahib,” the official said.
While India is executing a passenger terminal building for visit of over 5,000 pilgrims daily and over 15,000 pilgrims on special occasions, Pakistan has limited it to 700 pilgrims per day. Further, Pakistan did not agree to the Indian demand of allowing daily visits of pilgrims and has restricted it to “visiting days” which will be specified by it. It did not agree to permit travel of devotees on foot or as individuals, and has insisted on movement of groups of 15 and by vehicle, another official said.
Despite having assured visa-free passage to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan has now brought in, through the back door, the requirement of issuance of special permits by them to pilgrims, that also at a fee, which is “outrageous and defeats” the very purpose of the corridor, the official said. Pakistan has restricted the corridor facility to only Indian passport holders and excluded the large number of Overseas Citizens of India card holder devotees, the official said, adding that Pakistan is pretending to be blind to the fact that Guru Nanak Dev holds universal appeal, including the large Indian diaspora.
Responding to Indian media reports, Pakistan government sources said, “India is in no position to object on any land or its allotment and its use in the Pakistani territory…Every country has the right to decide how a religious corridor within its territory would operate and we take no dictations…The corridor is strictly for Indian citizens in light of the proposal by Pakistan tabled in 1992, if other nationalities want to visit, they can legally obtain a Pakistani visa….”
“…(there is) a sea of difference between the Indian attitude which we saw at Attari and what we are now witnessing through this fictitious leaks. We understand that the Indian government is doing hard to serve its domestic audience,” sources said
It may be recalled that when India and Pakistan signed a pact in 1974 to facilitate visit of their pilgrims to the shrines located in each other’s territories, Kartarpur Sahib was not included despite repeated Indian requests. Pakistan has so far resisted all attempts to include Kartarpur in the 1974 MoU, the official said. As per that agreement, there are 15 shrines in Pakistan and seven in India where each other’s pilgrims can visit, a top government official said.
The two sides are expected to meet again on April 2 at Wagah on the Pakistan side. On March 19, a group of technical experts from both sides will meet at zero line to finalise the alignment of the corridor approaching from Indian and Pakistani side.