With India and Pakistan locked in a diplomatic faceoff over the recent developments in Kashmir, the two countries failed to iron out their differences over the Kartarpur corridor in a recent meet. The corridor is scheduled to open in November.
In a high-level meeting held over the construction and facilitation of corridor today between representatives of the two countries at Attari, while Pakistan agreed to visa-free year-round travel of pilgrims, irrespective of faith, to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, it continues to insist on charging a service fee.
Home Ministry sources said it is also not agreeing to consular presence near the Gurudwara. India wanted consular presence near Gurudwara to help facilitate the visit of pilgrims and assist them in case they land in some kind of trouble in Pakistan.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday said Pakistan has agreed to allow 5,000 pilgrims to Kartarpur every day and more can visit on special occasions.
Pakistan has also agreed to the construction of a bridge on the zero line in the long run and make temporary arrangements for now, the MHA said.
“However, owing to certain differences on a few key issues, the agreement could not be finalised. Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing Pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit smooth and easy access through the Corridor.
Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of Indian Consular or Protocol officials at the Gurdwara premises. Pakistan side was urged to reconsider its position,” a statement from the MHA said.
The discussions were held between the Indian delegation led by an MHA Joint Secretary, and the Pakistan delegation led by Director General (South Asia and SAARC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the MHA, it was agreed that the corridor will be operational throughout the year, seven days a week. Pilgrims can choose to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot.
As many as “5,000 pilgrims can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Corridor every day. Additional pilgrims, over and above the figure of 5,000, can visit on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion by Pakistan side. Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible,” the MHA said.
Both sides have agreed upon emergency evacuation procedures, especially for medical emergencies, MHA said. A direct line of communication between the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers will be used for the same, it added.
The decision arrived at the technical level meeting on August 30, 2019 regarding sharing of details of pilgrims using the corridor has also been endorsed by both the sides.
“Both sides agreed upon ensuring safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims. Pakistan has been requested, once again, to allow protocol officers from India to accompany pilgrims every day for facilitating their visit. The Pakistan side has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims,” the MHA statement said.
On the construction work achieved on the Indian side, MHA claimed that significant progress has been made to build state-of-the-art infrastructure, including a passenger terminal that can handle over 15,000 pilgrims in a day. The ministry said the terminal would be completed by October 2019.
“The work on the 4-lane highway up to the International Boundary on the Indian side is on schedule. It will be completed by end of September 2019. All the facilities on Indian side would be ready for the pilgrimage through Kartarpur Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Devji,” the statement said.