By Muhammad Luqman
A Pakistani delegation will cross Wagha International border on Thursday (March 14) to negotiate an agreement in Attari town near Amritsar on the opening of Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan’s bordering district of Narowal to help facilitate Sikh pilgrims from India to have visa-free visit to the Gurdwara , the temple where founder of Sikh religion Guru Nanak had spent later years of his life.
An Indian delegation will reciprocate and visit Wagha town on the international border on March 28 as a follow up meeting to finalize the agreement so that the Sikh temple , Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib could provide direct access to the Indian Sikhs.
Presently, the Sikh devotees have to come to Lahore via Wagha crossing before reaching the Kartarpur temple after covering a distance of over 150 kilometers. Another thousands of Sikhs watch the Gurdwara through Darshanstalls (telescopes) from Dera Baba Nanak, the town located four kilometres off international border.
However, Pakistan’s foreign foreign office has expressed disappointment over Indian government’s decision to not issue visas to Pakistani journalists to cover March 14 meeting on Kartarpur corridor.
Pakistan had issued visas to atleast 30 Indian journalists for the coverage of groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor by Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 28 last.
Earlier in January, Pakistan had shared its draft of the proposed agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with India and called for initiation of negotiations for its finalisation. In February, after a bit of wrangling over the venue of the talks, the two countries had agreed in principle on reciprocal visits of officials for negotiating and finalising the agreement.
“Regrettable that India has not given visas to Pakistani journalists for the Kartarpur meeting tomorrow,” said Dr Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday via Twitter.
He added: “Hope the #PakKartarpurSpirit and meeting tomorrow will bring a change for the better for people of both countries.”
In another tweet, Dr Faisal pointed out that the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor in Pakistan last year was covered by more than 30 Indian journalists.
“They also met Prime Minister Imran Khan and were hosted by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for a dinner during their stay,”he added.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed its commitment to continuing negotiations on proposed Kartarpur Corridor agreement and announced that the two neighbouring countries would exchange visits by their respective delegations.
The announcement came a week after the Indian Air Force (IAF) violated Pakistani airspace following the Feb 14 attack targeting Indian security forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama area.
Two intruding IAF jets were later downed by Pakistan and a pilot was captured only to be released as a unilateral goodwill gesture.
Amidst rhetoric by Indian officials in the aftermath of the attack, Pakistan had called back its high commissioner in India for consultations on Feb 18. The high commissioner returned to India last week as tensions began to defuse after intervention by influential world capitals.
The groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor in Pakistan was performed last year on Nov 28. Indian government had sent two cabinet ministers — Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh — to participate in the ceremony.
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 in Kartarpur Sahib (Narowal district). The corridor is planned to be opened for Sikh pilgrims this year in commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
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”, English newspaper, Daily Dawn reported.
“We welcome the visit of Pakistan team to discuss and finalise modalities for facilitating visit of pilgrims through Kartarpur Sahib Corridor to India. Follow up meeting can be held in Pakistan, as required,” Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had tweeted on Feb 7, after the March meeting was finalised by the two sides.
By Muhammad Luqman