Attari/New Delhi | India on Sunday conveyed its concerns to Pakistan on possible attempts by individuals and groups to disrupt the pilgrimage to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, following which Islamabad assured that no anti-India activity would be allowed.
The government also said that Pakistan has “in-principle agreed” to build a bridge to connect with the Indian side and to visa-free travel for Indian passport holders and OCI card-holders.
India flagged its security concerns during a meeting that took place between delegations of the two countries on the Pakistani side of the Attari-Wagah border to discuss the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor.
New Delhi had earlier conveyed its strong concerns to Pakistan over the presence of a leading Khalistani separatist in a committee appointed by Islamabad on the project.
“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. A dossier was handed over to Pakistan side to highlight concerns in the matter,” a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said. “The Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed,” it said.
The Indian delegation also sought consular presence in the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara to be able to provide assistance to pilgrims, if required.
The Indian delegation was led by Home Ministry Joint Secretary SCL Das and comprised representatives from the Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Defence Ministry, the Punjab government and the National Highway Authorities of India. This was the second round of discussion to be held on the project.
The statement said progress was made in finalising the draft agreement with regard to the modalities.
“It was agreed to allow visa-free travel for the Indian passport holders and OCI card holders seven days a week. Throughout the year, 5000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day. The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot,” it added.
India has been urging Pakistan that 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit the gurudwara every day and 10,000 additional pilgrims be allowed on special occasions with no restriction in terms of faith.
Plus, pilgrims should be allowed to visit throughout the year, seven days a week with the choice to visit as individuals or in a group.
The work on the four-lane highway to the crossing point at the International Boundary is progressing well and is on schedule, officials said.
It will be completed by end September. India is also constructing a state-of-the-art construction passenger terminal facility that can accommodate 15,000 passengers.
The bone of contention is connecting the two sides at the zero point which was also discussed.
India is constructing a bridge at the zero point and has urged Pakistan to build a similar bridge on its side that will provide safe and secure movement of pilgrims and address concerns regarding flooding.
Another option proposed by Pakistan is building a causeway which is also not acceptable to India as it has been insisting on an all-weather bridge.
The bridge is over a creek of which the majority part falls in Pakistan.
The Indian delegation shared detailed flood analysis to Pakistan to highlight these concerns.
The Indian delegation said an earth filled embankment or a causeway proposed by Pakistan will create problems for its people and this should not be built even in the interim.
“Pakistan side agreed, in principle, to build a bridge at the earliest,” it said.
“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, given the historic importance of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev,” it added.
A Home Ministry statement said Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they might be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner.
Both sides have agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the agreement on Kartarpur Sahib corridor.
The meeting also reviewed the progress reached in the three rounds of technical meeting that were held in March, April and May this year. The technical teams would meet again to ensure that seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor is operational in time so the pilgrimage can begin in November.
The Pakistan side has also been separately requested to permit and facilitate ‘Nagar Kirtan’ from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and then again in October/ November.
It 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.