A bridge at Zero Line on the Indo-Pak border at Dera Baba Nanak has emerged as the latest bone of contention between India and Pakistan on the Kartarpur corridor issue, government sources said. The two countries have had run-ins in the past over the corridor, including over pro-Khalistani faces in a committee set up by Pakistan and over Pakistan’s refusal to allow at least 5,000 visitors a day from India.
While India wants a bridge over the Zero Line and has already begun constructing one on its side, Pakistan is insisting on constructing a causeway, sources said. India is of the view that not building a bridge would lead to flooding of Indian areas during monsoon when the Ravi river overflows.
The issue was discussed at a technical meeting held between officials of the two countries at the Attari-Wagah border on May 27. “We are at a lower gradient vis-a-vis Ravi floodplains in Pakistan. So when Ravi floods, the water comes towards us. Without a bridge, the water won’t drain out and will flood us. We had told them right at the start that we need to build an all-weather corridor with cross drainage, adhering to international norms. We have flagged our concerns multiple times, but they have been saying they can only make a causeway. That is not going to work,” said an official with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Sources said Pakistan has been saying that building a bridge would lead to missing the November dealine when the two countries plan to throw open the corridor connecting Gurudwara Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur with Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. The two gurudwaras are approximately 8 km apart, with both the countries having decided to construct 4 km each on their side.
“We have told Pakistan that if meeting the deadline is a problem, we can work on a temporary arrangement to connect their causeway with our service road. But we have conveyed to them that we will continue to build our bridge and Pakistan must keep its part of the commitment on the corridor and build the bridge later,” an official of the Ministry of External Affairs said.
Sources said Pakistan’s budget constraints were also an issue. While India has allocated Rs 500 crore for the project, Pakistan has allocated Rs 100 crore. The two countries have had four meetings since March on the corridor. While three of these were technical, one was a high-level meeting of top officials.
Sources said that in the March 19 meeting, Pakistan had been positive about India’s concerns over flooding. However, in the April 16 meeting, they steered clear of the issue, sources added. “On May 27, they said they would make a causeway,” an official said. There are several other issues which the two countries continue to negotiate without much success. While India had sought consular presence at the Kartarpur gurudwara to help Indian pilgrims, Pakistan has not agreed. “We continue to push for it,” the MEA official said.
India has had no commitment from Pakistan on the issue of pro-Khalistani faces in Pakistan’s committee. “Their response is always of denial. But we have strongly conveyed our displeasure,” the MEA official said.
In March, the induction of Gopal Singh Chawla in the 10-member committee of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), which is expected to “facilitate” the visit of Indians pilgrims to the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara, had Delhi seething and led to the cancellation of scheduled meeting between India and Pakistan. Chawla had played a key role in raising pro-Khalistan slogans and putting up posters on a Sikh referendum in November last year, during the visit of Indian pilgrims.
India has also been pushing for allowing Overseas Citizens of India to visit Kartarpur which Pakistan has not agreed to.