Officials from Pakistan and India on Thursday agreed to expedite work to operationalise the Kartarpur Corridor, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said in a press briefing soon after talks on the matter concluded on a cordial note in Attari, India.
Dr Faisal, who was heading the Pakistani side during the bilateral dialogue, told reporters after the meeting that though differences persist on a few points, the meeting went well overall.
Technical experts from Pakistan and India also had a discussion on key matters, he said, adding that the meeting was held in a positive and conducive environment. The experts discussed issues relating to the corridor, its construction, road, and other technicalities.
Dr Faisal termed the meeting itself an achievement, noting that the two countries had issued a joint statement after a gap of several years. He recalled that the two countries had last agreed on a joint statement in 2015.
Reading out the statement, he said, “Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.”
“Both sides also held expert-level discussions between technical experts on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor,” he read out.
He added that the two sides have also agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on April 2, 2019, which will be preceded by a meeting of technical experts on March 19, 2019 at proposed zero points to finalise the alignment of the corridor.
Earlier in the day, the Pakistani delegation had crossed over to India from the Wagah border crossing to negotiate the mechanisms that will govern operations of the Kartarpur Corridor.
The hope is to provide visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to the Gurdwara in Kartarpur Sahib — a small town in Narowal, 4 kilometres from the Pakistan-India border, where Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life.
The corridor is planned to be opened for Sikh pilgrims this year in commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. The groundbreaking of the project on the Pakistani side was performed by Prime Minister Imran Khan at Kartarpur Sahib on Nov 28, 2018.
In pictures: Sikh yatris, Indian ministers attend Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony
According to Radio Pakistan, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal, while talking to media persons before leaving for India, expressed his confidence that dialogue on the corridor could be “a step forward in the right direction in the current vitiated situation from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship.”
Talking about the religious importance of the corridor, the spokesperson explained to the media that Gurdwara Darbar Sahab was built at a site on the Pakistan side and Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak in India.
“Opening the corridor to allow Sikhs access to their most revered place of worship has been a longstanding request of the Sikhs. This is also reflective of the importance and primacy that Pakistan gives to all its minorities,” he added.
On January 21, Islamabad shared its draft agreement with India and proposed that Pakistan delegation may visit India on March 14 followed by return visit of the Indian delegation to Pakistan. On 6 March 2019, India proposed that Pakistan delegation may visit Attari on March 14.
“Continuing with our spirit of constructive engagement and flexibility and in line with our sincere efforts to de-escalate the situation for regional peace and stability, we decided to agree to the Indian proposal and that is why we are here today to crossover to the Indian side shortly for what is the first of a series of meetings,” Dr Faisal said at the Wagah border.
After a bit of wrangling over the venue of talks on Kartarpur Corridor Accord, in February Pakistan and India had agreed in principle on reciprocal visits of officials for negotiating and finalising the agreement with Pakistani delegation travelling to Delhi on March 14 for initiating the process.
In January, Pakistan had shared its draft of Kartarpur Corridor Accord with India and invited its delegation for a visit for negotiating the document, which would govern operations of the corridor meant to provide visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to the gurdwara.
India, however, instead of accepting the proposal on that occasion, insisted on hosting the meeting and asked Pakistani officials to visit Delhi either on Feb 26 or March 7. Although the counter-proposals from Islamabad and Delhi had given the impression of a sort of standoff on the issue, Islamabad had, instead of reacting to the position taken by India in response to its original suggestion, vowed to “take the process forward”.
In addition to the official-level talks, India also proposed technical discussions on the corridor.