India and Pakistan on Sunday began the second round of talks over finalising the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor, on the Pakistani side of the border. Connectivity and safety of pilgrims were on top priority of the talks.
Pakistan agreed in-principle to build a bridge on the zero line of the Kartarpur Corridor to provide all-weather connectivity and allow 5,000 pilgrims per day, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after a two-hour meeting. “Throughout the year, 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day… Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner. There should be no restrictions on the pilgrims in terms of their faith,” the Foreign Ministry said.
According to reports, the Pakistani delegation, led by Dr Mohammad Faisal, a spokesperson for Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, showed a powerpoint presentation to the Indian side. Faisal told reporters ahead of the talks, “It is the second round Kartarpur corridor talks as promised by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Pakistan is fully committed and cooperating to operationalise the Kartarpur Corridor. Work from our side is underway in an expeditious manner. More than 70% of the Gurudwara construction work has been completed. We hope to have a productive discussion with the Indian counterparts.”
The Indian delegation is led by SCL Das, Joint Secretary (Internal Security) in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Deepak Mittal, Joint Secretary (PAI-Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran) in the Ministry of External Affairs. Indian officials took up a number of key issues, including infrastructure, pilgrims’ movement, and safety. India’s demand for the construction of a bridge by Pakistan in the creek area was also discussed. India raised concerns regarding the possible flooding of Dera Baba Nanak due to the construction of an embankment-filled road on the Pakistani side. India has already been building a bridge on its side to provide all-weather connectivity for the Kartarpur corridor. It has urged Pakistan to build a similar bridge on their side as it would provide safe and secure movement of the pilgrims while also addressing concerns over flooding.
The other key issues on the table were the number of pilgrims allowed to access the corridor, safe and unhindered movement of pilgrims throughout the year, whether they would travel as individuals or groups, and whether they would travel by transport or foot.
It is remarkable that India will spend Rs 500 crore to build the corridor. This amount would be spent on installing a high tech security and surveillance system to ensure the safety of pilgrims and creating an all-weather facility to cater to 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions and 5000 pilgrims on a daily basis. The Kartarpur route along the India-Pakistan border is three kilometers away from Gurdaspur. Once opened, it would allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to the historic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan. Guru Nanak Dev passed away in Kartarpur in 1539. As per Ministry of External Affairs, the work on these two projects will be completed in time – one by September 2019 and the other by October 2019.
The first level of talks were held on March 14 and second round, which were to take place on April 2, were called off pending clarifications by Islamabad on New Delhi’s security concerns. In May, India had raised concerns that Pakistan is promoting the interest of Khalistani groups under the garb of the Kartarpur corridor.