Delegations from India and Pakistan will meet Thursday on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border crossing to discuss modalities for the Kartarpur corridor despite the slide in ties following the Balakot air strike and Pakistan’s retaliatory action. A day ahead of the talks, New Delhi said it looked forward to “a constructive, meaningful and flexible approach from the other side”.
India will seek “visa free access” to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, for Sikh pilgrims who will take the proposed corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
Key to the meeting will be acceptance of the essential features of a Memorandum of Agreement, a draft of which has already been shared with Islamabad, and operational modalities. The second priority will be development of the border infrastructure, which will be state-of-the-art and convenient for elderly pilgrims.
The two sides will also discuss physical alignment of the corridor since there appears to have been a mismatch on the “zero point coordinates”.
Sources in New Delhi said the security architecture will be “fail-safe, foolproof and intrusion-free”. The BSF, sources said, will take care of the security of the corridor which will be under surveillance.
The Indian delegation will be led by S C L Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, and will include officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, Punjab government, National Highways Authority of India, Land Ports Authority of India among other agencies.
At the talks, India is likely to ask Pakistan to insulate Sikh pilgrims from Khalistani separatist propaganda, sources said. Last November, India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over alleged harassment of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad and denial of access to visiting Indian Sikh pilgrims.
At Dera Baba Nanak, Akhil Saxena, Member (Planning and Development), Land Ports Authority of India said: “Modalities for the arrival and departure of pilgrims will be finalised. Both India and Pakistan have draft proposals on how to manage the flow of devotees in the Kartarpur corridor.”
He was there with a delegation to make an assessment for construction of the Dera Baba Nanak Integrated Check Post as part of the proposed corridor.
“The National Highways Authority of India officials are also with me. They will decide on the level of the road and other parameters for the Kartarpur corridor… Land Ports Authority of India has to construct a terminal here on 50 acres. In the first phase, we will develop 15 acres. It will be a state-of-the-art terminal and will provide best of the facilities to the devotees who come here. Its design will be according to the culture of Punjab. We will ensure that elderly people don’t need to use stairs,” Saxena said.
“The Punjab government is in the process of acquiring land for us. I am hopeful that land will be handed over to us within a week or ten days, and we will start construction thereafter,” he said.