India wants Pak to keep Khalistanis away from Kartarpur

The “Kartarpur Corridor” was conceived to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit the final resting place of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak in Pakistan without any hassle. PTI file photo

India is expecting Pakistan to address its concern over the involvement of people known for supporting the campaign for “Khalistan” in the “Kartarpur Corridor” project even as its officials are set to meet counterparts from the neighbouring country on Sunday.

The officials of India and Pakistan will meet on Sunday to discuss the draft agreement for finalizing the modalities of Kartarpur Corridor and related technical issues. Pakistan will host the meeting at Wagah adjacent to its border with India.

India has “high expectation” that Pakistan will address its concern over the inclusion of Gopal Singh Chawla and other pro-Khalistani leaders based in Pakistan in the committee, which Prime Minister Imran Khan's Government constituted to welcome pilgrims from India through the proposed “Kartarpur Corridor”, sources in New Delhi said on Friday.

The “Kartarpur Corridor” was conceived to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit the final resting place of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak in Pakistan without any hassle.

The officials of the two governments had held the first meeting on “Kartarpur Corridor” at Attari (India) on the Attari-Wagah border on March 14. With the celebration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak scheduled to commence in November, both sides discussed the possibility of expediting works to make the corridor operational at the earliest so that pilgrims from India could start visiting the holy shrine in Pakistan during the ceremony.

The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan is among the holiest for the Sikhs as it marks the place where Guru Nanak lived for 18 years and finally breathed his last in 1539.

The March 14 meeting was the first engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad after tension between the two nations escalated over the February 14 killing of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in a terrorist attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir and India's air strike on a terror camp in Pakistan on February 26.

The second meeting had been scheduled to take place at Wagah (Pakistan) on the Attari-Wagah border on April 2.

New Delhi, however, on March 29 put on hold its engagement with Islamabad on “Kartarpur Corridor”, expressing concerns over inclusion of Gopal Singh Chawla and other pro-Khalistani activists based in Pakistan in a committee that Prime Minister Imran Khan's Government in the neighbouring country constituted to welcome the pilgrims travelling from India. Chawla, who is known to be linked to anti-India and pro-Khalistan entities based in Pakistan, is also linked to radical cleric Hafiz Saeed, who is based at Lahore in the neighbouring country and whom New Delhi suspects to be the founder of the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) as well as the brain behind the November 26-28, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

A source in New Delhi, however, said that India had recently taken the initiative to restart talks with Pakistan on “Kartarpur Corridor” only to demonstrate its commitment to the project. The resumption of talks on the corridor should not be construed as an indication of New Delhi softening its stand and agreeing to restart its stalled Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue with Islamabad, added the source.

The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is building a 4.5-kilometre-long road from Dera Baba Nanak at Gurdaspur in Punjab to the border between India and Pakistan with an estimated expenditure of Rs 120 crores. Nearly 60% works for construction of the four-lane road had been completed. The NHAI had a deadline to finish the works by September 30, sources said.

The Land Port Authority of India (LPAI) is building a passenger terminal complex at Dera Baba Nanak at an estimated expenditure of Rs 500 crore. Sources in New Delhi said that the construction of the complex would be completed by October 31 and it would have the capacity to cater for approximately 5000 pilgrims per day with robust security systems, all public amenities and adequate facilities for immigration and customs clearance.

Pakistan is also building infrastructure on its side to receive the pilgrims from India and facilitating their travel to the shrine and return.

New Delhi, however, has concerns over the pace of the construction works initiated by Pakistan Government on the other side of the border.

New Delhi is also concerned over Pakistan's plan to build a portion of the corridor on its side on a proposed embankment as such construction could inundate large areas in India. India is already building a bridge on its side to provide for all weather connectivity for the Kartarpur Corridor. Pakistan has also been asked to build similar bridge on its side to avert flood in areas in India, sources said on Friday.

India will keep insisting Pakistan to make the movement of its pilgrims from the country to the neighbouring country through “Kartarpur Corridor” visa-free as also free of any other permit, documentation or fees. Pakistan Government, however, has been seeking to impose a special permit along with charging a fee, which, New Delhi argued, would be repugnant to the religious sentiments of pilgrims and the spirit of providing them smooth and easy access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur through the proposed corridor. Pakistan has also not yet agreed to allow overseas citizens of India to avail the corridor.

Comments (+)