New Delhi: While India and Pakistan have agreed on using passports as the basic document for identification, New Delhi has also called on Islamabad to remove requirements for a visa for pilgrims using the Kartarpur corridor.
On Thursday, Indian and Pakistani officials held the first meeting on the trans-border Kartapur Sahib Corridor that would link two important holy sites related to the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. The corridor is expected to be opened to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November this year.
The Indian side was led by ministry of home affairs joint secretary, S.C.L. Das; the Pakistani delegation was chaired by Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia & SAARC) in the ministry of foreign affairs.
The meeting started around 10.30 am at the integrated checkpost at Attari and lasted till the afternoon. The 20-member Pakistani delegation left soon after by foot after a joint press statement was issued.
The bilateral meet took place as scheduled despite India and Pakistan conducting airstrikes on each other’s territory in the last week of February.
According to the joint press statement, the meeting was “cordial”, with “detailed and constructive discussions various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement”.
Later, addressing the media, Das said that both sides discussed their version of a draft MoU on operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib corridor in detail.
He said that India has asked Pakistan to ensure that the Kartarpur corridor is “absolutely visa free”. “There should not be additional encumbrances in the form of any additional documentation or procedures,” added Das.
He also noted that as a first step, the identification document will be the passport. “We have also got assurance from the other side that clearances can be done within seven days,” said Das.
He also said that the India has asked Pakistan to scale up their facilities to allow for visit by 5,000 pilgrims per day. “This should include not just Indian nationals, but people of Indian origin,” added Das. On special and holy days, the numbers of pilgrims could go up by an additional 10,000, he noted.
The Indian delegation made a video presentation of the facilities being planned at Guru Dera Baba Nanak, which will mark the start of the pilgrimage.
Another member of the Indian delegation, MHA’s Nidhi Khare added that India also wanted Pakistan to allow pilgrims to travel on the four and half kilometre corridor, if they so required.
According to MEA’s joint secretary (Pakistan Afghanstan Iran) Deepak Mittal, India did “share our concerns” about pro-Khalistan propaganda targeting pilgrims. “We told them that they (Pakistan) should not allow any activity against the spirit with which pilgrims will visit the corridor,” he said.
India also reiterated that they wanted consular access to the pilgrims. “It is not part of the current arrangements, but we said that consular access was important this time,” said Das.
The next meeting would be held on March 19 between technical experts at the international border to reach an alignment on the road.
Then, on April 2, the Indian delegation will cross the border to hold the next meeting at Wagah.
All the members of the Indian delegation emphasise that the choice of the venue of the talks underlined that this was not a resumption of the bilateral dialogue
“We are having the talks here that clearly gave a signal that it is not a resumption of bilateral talks, but we wanted to show our maturity and sensitivity to our people… The message was loud and clear. The meeting was not held at Delhi… There was no informal interaction, no handshake and the meeting continued through lunch… it was very business-like,” said Das.