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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Kartarpur talks stalled, India blames ‘inflexibility’ by Pakistan

Das said India underscored the importance of ensuring a safe and secure environment for pilgrims.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2019 06:10 IST
Rezaul H Laskar and Surjit Singh
Rezaul H Laskar and Surjit Singh
New Delhi/Attari
The Indian side “urged them to seek political guidance and reconsider their positions”, this official added.
The Indian side “urged them to seek political guidance and reconsider their positions”, this official added.(HT image)
         

India and Pakistan on Wednesday failed to finalise a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor after the Pakistani side adopted an inflexible attitude on certain conditions, including a service fee for pilgrims, officials said.

During the third round of talks between senior officials for finalising modalities for operationalising the corridor, the Pakistani side also opposed the presence of Indian consular and protocol officials to facilitate the pilgrims every day, the people said.

“Owing to inflexibility shown by Pakistan, the agreement could not be finalised today. Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit Darbar Sahib Gurdwara, which is repugnant to the spirit of the Kartarpur Corridor,” said SCL Das, joint secretary in the home ministry, who led the Indian delegation.

“Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of protocol officials at the gurdwara premises to accompany pilgrims for their facilitation. The Pakistani side was strongly urged to reconsider its position,” he said.

Another official, who declined to be identified, said: “It seems the Pakistani side came with a brief to not conclude the agreement. They wanted to indulge in propaganda rather than serious talks.”

The Indian side “urged them to seek political guidance and reconsider their positions”, this official added.

Das said India underscored the importance of ensuring a safe and secure environment for pilgrims. The Indian side shared concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan, which may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims, he added.

The Pakistani side insisted on charging a service fee of $20 from each pilgrim and did not agree to allow up to 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions because of infrastructure constraints, people familiar with developments said. The Pakistani officials said they could agree to allow “more pilgrims” on special occasions subject to available capacity, the people said.

However, the two sides reached an understanding on visa-free travel of 5,000 Indian pilgrims every day via the corridor during the meeting held at Attari against the backdrop of heightened tensions.

“There would not be any restrictions based on faith. Persons of Indian origin, holding OCI cards, can also visit Darbar Sahib Gurdwara using the corridor,” the official cited above said.

The corridor will be operational throughout the year, seven days a week, and pilgrims will have the choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot, the people said.

They also agreed on emergency evacuation procedures, especially for medical emergencies.

A decision made at a meeting of technical experts on August 30 regarding sharing of details of pilgrims using the corridor was endorsed by both sides.

The people said significant progress has been made in building state-of-the-art infrastructure, including a passenger terminal on the Indian side that can handle more than 15,000 pilgrims a day, and is expected to be completed by October.

All facilities on Indian side will be ready for the pilgrimage through Kartarpur Corridor by the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, in November. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said his country reaffirmed its commitment to opening the Kartarpur Corridor on time and urged India to show flexibility. He said Islamabad has taken unprecedented steps to facilitate Sikh pilgrims and that another round of delegation-level talks will be held to finalise the agreement.

First Published: Sep 05, 2019 01:22 IST

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