NEW DELHI: In a significant development on Sunday, India and Pakistan agreed to allow 5,000 visitors of all faiths to pass through the Kartarpur Corridor per day.
The decision was taken along the Wagah border where officials from both countries met to finalize the corridor’s opening.
The proposed project connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India’s Punjab region to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan.
The corridor will allow religious devotees from India to visit the shrine in Kartarpur without a visa.
The last round of talks were held in March this year.
On Sunday, the two sides reached conclusions on a wide range of issues that were causing friction between the two nations.
The connecting bridge at the border has been a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.
In a statement, Indian Foreign Ministry officials said “Pakistan agreed, in principle, to build a bridge as soon as possible.
“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 2019, given the historic importance of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji,” the statement added.
Both sides agreed to allow visa-free travel for Indians and those who have Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards.
“Use of the Kartarpur Corridor facility must be extended beyond Indian nationals, to those holding OCI cards,” New Delhi said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson and director general for South Asia, Dr. Muhammad Faisal, said that both countries have agreed to open the Kartarpur Corridor on time and have developed consensus on a majority of the main issues.
He was talking to the media following the second round of talks on the Kartarpur Corridor. Pakistan’s delegation was led by Dr. Faisal, while the Indian delegation was led by SCL Das, joint secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs and comprised representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Government of Punjab and the National Highway Authorities of India.
Dr. Faisal refused to give details of the issues that were discussed in the meeting: “It is the accepted norm that we do not discuss details until the agreement is finalized.”
He said that Pakistan would allow the rising number of Sikh visitors owing to the capacity of the corridor.
Dr. Faisal planted a sapling “tree of peace” at the Wagah border but the Indians did not take part as “they had to return early.”
Dr. Faisal said that Pakistan was fully committed to delivering the corridor plans for the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak in November this year and had completed 70 percent of the work on the Gurdwara complex, terminal building and roads.
The Indian statement also said that devotees should be allowed to visit throughout the year.
New Delhi added that Pakistan has given assurances that “no anti-India activity would be allowed,” during the crossing.
The Indians are concerned that the Kartarpur Corridor could be used to stoke Sikh separatist movements on the Indian side of the Punjab region.
They said: “We have raised concerns regarding individuals or organizations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the visit. A dossier was delivered to Pakistan to highlight concerns in this matter.”
They added that the talks had “made significant progress in infrastructure, including passenger terminals on the Indian side that can handle over 15,000 devotees per day. This is expected to be completed by 31 October 2019. The work on the 4-lane highway to the crossing point at the international border is progressing satisfactorily and is on schedule. It will be completed by the end of September 2019.
The government is fully confident that India would be ready to commence the devotees through the corridor on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.”
Punjab-based political analyst Professor Ashutosh Kumar said “the progress in talks reflect Pakistan’s desire to improve its international image and win the hearts of people in the Punjab region of India.
“Imran Khan wants to project Pakistan as a country which does not promote terrorism.”
Kumar added that “for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in India, the Kartarpur Corridor gives an opportunity to make inroads into the Punjab region.”
However, Kumar said that “we should not have high hopes that there will be greater engagement between India and Pakistan after the completion of the Kartarpur Corridor.
“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a statesman. He has won a massive victory recently on an offering of nationalism and raising anti-Pakistan bigotry. It would be difficult to imagine that he would show any visionary policy to engage with Pakistan. Modi’s politics are guided by muscular nationalism.”