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India conveys concerns to Pak on possible attempts to disrupt Kartarpur Sahib pilgrimage

PTI | Lahore | Updated: 14-07-2019 17:30 IST | Created: 14-07-2019 17:21 IST
India conveys concerns to Pak on possible attempts to disrupt Kartarpur Sahib pilgrimage
Representative Image Image Credit: ANI

India on Sunday conveyed its concerns to Pakistan on the possible attempts by individuals and groups to disrupt the Kartarpur Sahib pilgrimage and the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak due to earth-filled embankment road or a causeway proposed by Islamabad as officials from the two countries held a crucial round of talks. India flagged its concerns during the second round of the talks on the Kartarpur corridor that took place between delegations of the two countries in Wagah on the Pakistani side of the border.

"Concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims were shared. A dossier was handed over to Pakistan side to highlight concerns in the matter," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. "The Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed," it said.

India had earlier conveyed its strong concerns to Pakistan over the presence of a leading Khalistani separatist in a 10-member committee appointed by Islamabad on the project. Pakistan dropped Khalistani separatist Gopal Singh Chawla from the committee after New Delhi's objection. Chawla was the secretary-general of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee which would facilitate Sikh pilgrims after the opening of the corridor.

The Indian delegation also sought consular presence in the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara to be able to provide assistance to pilgrims, if required. The bone of contention is connecting the two sides at the zero points which were also discussed.

India is constructing a bridge at the zero points and has urged Pakistan to build a similar bridge on its side that will provide safe and secure movement of pilgrims and address concerns regarding flooding. Another option proposed by Pakistan is building a causeway which is also not acceptable to India as it has been insisting on an all-weather bridge. The bridge is over a creek of which the majority part falls in Pakistan.

India delegation conveyed concerns regarding the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak and adjoining areas on the Indian side as a result of earth-filled embankment road or a causeway, the statement said, adding a detailed flood analysis was shared with Pakistan to underscore these concerns. The Indian delegation said earth-filled embankment or a causeway proposed by Pakistan will create problems for its people and this should not be built even in the interim.

"Pakistan side agreed, in principle, to build a bridge at the earliest," the MEA statement said. "Pending the construction of a bridge over the old Ravi creek by Pakistan on their territory, India offered to make interim arrangements for making the corridor operational in November, given the historic importance of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev," it added.

The statement said progress was made in finalising the draft agreement with regard to the modalities. "It was agreed to allow visa-free travel for the Indian passport holders and OCI cardholders seven days a week. Throughout the year, 5000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day. The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot," it added.

India has been urging Pakistan that 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit the gurudwara every day and 10,000 additional pilgrims are allowed on special occasions with no restriction in terms of faith. A Home Ministry statement said Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they might be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner.

Both sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the agreement on Kartarpur Sahib corridor. The meeting also reviewed the progress reached in the three rounds of technical meeting that were held in March, April and May this year. The technical teams would meet again to ensure that seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor is operational in time so the pilgrimage can begin in November.

The Pakistan side has also been separately requested to permit and facilitate 'Nagar Kirtan' from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and then again in October/ November. Briefing the media at Wagah after about four hours long talks, Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal, who was leading the 13-member Pakistani delegation, said there has been positive progress in the corridor talks.

"There are positive developments... Both countries have agreed 80 per cent and beyond regarding the Kartarpur corridor agreement," he said, adding that the two sides would resolve the remaining 20 per cent issues in the next meeting. When asked about the joint statement, Faisal said: "Until we agree on the final draft, we cannot share. On unresolved issues, we think we will have to have another sitting."

The corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, which was established in 1522 by Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak Dev. The first round of talks was held in Attari on March 14 in the shadow of escalating bilateral tensions following the Pulwama terror attack by a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed on February 14.


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