Pak agrees to build bridge on zero line, visa-free travel: MEA

P L Uniyal. Dated: 7/16/2019 10:39:04 AM

Both countries agree on ’80 per cent and beyond’: Pak

NEW DELHI, Jul 14: Pakistan today agreed in-principle to build a bridge on the zero line of the Kartarpur Corridor to provide all-weather connectivity, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after a two-hour meeting to iron out issues in the second round of talks over the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims.
India is already constructing a bridge on the zero line; Pakistan, however, had been insisting on constructing a causeway, which India believes, would act as a barrier, directing more flood water towards India.
“Pakistan side agreed, in principle, to build a bridge at the earliest. 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 Foreign Ministry said in the statement.
Indian officials also shared concerns over individuals or organisations on the other side of the border which may disrupt or misuse the pilgrimage. A dossier was also handed over to Pakistani officials over the matter. “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,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs. “A dossier was also handed over to Pakistan side to highlight concerns in the matter. The Indian delegation has also sought consular presence in Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara to be able to provide assistance to the pilgrims if required,” the statement added. Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed.
Both countries agreed to allow visa-free travel for Indians and those who have Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards, the statement said.
“Throughout the year, 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day... Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner," the Foreign Ministry said.
“There should be no restrictions on the pilgrims in terms of their faith,” it said. The second round of talks comes a day after Pakistan removed pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla from its committee that is involved in talks with India.
The Indian delegation for the talks today was led by the Home Ministry's Joint Secretary (Internal Security) SCL Das and the Foreign Ministry's Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) Deepak Mittal, while the 20-member Pakistani delegation was led by Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. Indian delegation also comprised representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Government of Punjab and the National Highway Authorities of India.
“Pakistan is fully committed and cooperating to operationalise Kartarpur Corridor," said Faisal this morning.
The Kartarpur corridor will be vulnerable to flooding as it is being built near the flood plains of the Ravi river. In 2013, when the area was flooded, it had caused great damage to people living in Punjab's Gurdaspur area. Once built, the corridor will connect the Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims. The pilgrims will require just a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, an important Sikh shrine established in 1522 by the faith's founder Guru Nanak Dev.
In the meanwhile, Pak Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal, who was leading the Pakistani delegation, said there has been positive progress in the corridor talks.
“Pakistan and India agreed 80 per cent and beyond on the draft agreement and operationalisation of the landmark Kartarpur corridor,” he said after marathon meeting between the officials of the two countries in Wagah.
Briefing the media at Wagah after about four hours long second round of talks Sunday, Faisal said, “There are positive developments… Both countries have agreed 80 per cent and beyond regarding the Kartarpur corridor agreement,” 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.”
Replying to a question about how many Indian Sikhs will be issued permit at the opening of the corridor in November, he said: “It may be 5,000 or 8,000…I cannot give the exact number. This has to be decided yet.” Faisal, who is also the Director General of South Asia and SAARC, further said that Pakistan has planted a sapling of peace.
“This is a corridor of peace and we have planted a sapling of peace,” he said.
Before the start of the meeting, Faisal said Pakistan is committed to opening the corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims on the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
“Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan wants peace in the region. He is committed to open the corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak in November 2019,” he said.
The second round of talks, which were originally scheduled on April 2, was cancelled by India after Pakistan nominated Khalistani separatist like Gopal Singh Chawla in a 10-member Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee (PSGPC).
Pakistan dropped Chawla from its team which held talks with India on Sunday after New Delhi objected to the presence of the Khalistani separatists in the committee which would facilitate Sikh pilgrims after opening of the corridor. Chawla is the secretary-general of the PSGPC.
“Chawla has been removed from the secretary general post and he is no longer a member of the PSGPC. Chawla is also not part of the Pakistani delegation which is taking part in the second round of talks in Wagah,” a senior official of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) said.
The ETPB is a statutory board that manages religious properties and shrines of Hindus and Sikhs who had migrated to India following the partition.
The official said the PSGPC Pardhan (president) Tara Singh has also been removed and the new election will be held soon to elect new president and the secretary-general.
“Apparently, removal of Chawla is a damage control step by the Imran Khan government,” the official said, adding that he had become so controversial that the Khan government was forced to revamp the whole PSGPC.
Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib while the other part from Dera Baba Nanak up to the border will be constructed by India.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur Corridor in Gurdaspur district.
Two days later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Narowal, 125-km from Lahore.
Khan’s government has earmarked Rs 100 crore in the federal budget 2019-20 for the development of the corridor.
The funds will be used for land acquisition and development of infrastructure of Kartarpur under Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the next financial year 2019-20. (A
Earlier, the second round of talks with Pakistan on the modalities for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor held at Wagah, Pakistan today. The meeting today discussed the modalities and draft agreement for facilitation of Pilgrims on the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, as also the infrastructure being developed for the corridor.
The meeting reviewed the progress reached in the three rounds of technical meeting that were held in March, April and May 2019. They endorsed the crossing point /‘zero point’ coordinates that were agreed to at the technical level.
The Indian side 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 that is proposed to be built by Pakistan on their side. The Indian delegation shared detailed flood analysis with Pakistan to underscore these concerns. It was clearly conveyed that an earth filled embankment or a causeway will create problems for Indian people and should not be built even in the interim. Details of the bridge that India is building on its side were shared, and Pakistan side was urged to also build a bridge on their side.
This would not only address the flooding related concerns, but also ensure smooth, hassle free, all-weather pilgrimage to the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib, throughout the year.
India urged Pakistan to take into consideration the sentiments of the pilgrims to have smooth, easy, unrestricted access throughout the year to be able to visit the holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib. India also reiterated its request that 10,000 additional pilgrims be allowed to visit on special occasions. The importance for ensuring safe and secure environment for the pilgrims was underscored.
Based on the representations that were received by the government, the issue of encroachment of the land belonging to the Gurudwara was once again raised and Pakistan authorities were asked to restore this land to the Gurudwara to honor religious sentiments. Pakistan side agreed to look at this issue.
The Government of India has made significant progress to build a state of art infrastructure, including passenger terminal on the Indian side that can handle over 15000 pilgrims in a day. This is targeted to be completed by 31 October 2019.
The Pakistan side was separately requested to permit and facilitate ‘Nagar Kirtan’ from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July 2019 and then again in October/ November 2019 that is proposed to be organised by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), the apex bodies involved in organising pilgrims visits to Pakistan under the 1974 Bilateral protocol.
It was also proposed to Pakistan to allow 10,000 Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan under the 1974 Protocol on the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Both sides agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the Agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. The technical teams would meet again to ensure a seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor is operational in time so that the pilgrimage can begin in November 2019.

 

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