New Delhi/Attari, Sep 4 : India on Wednesday said there was little 'setback' as the final pact with Pakistan on the Kartarpur Corridor could not be finalised "owing to certain differences" on a few issues, including Islamabad's stance on fees from the pilgrims and not allowing Indian Protocol officials at the Gurdwara premises. "Thodi si nirasha hui hae (There was little setback)," SCL Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home and the leader of the Indian delegation told reporters at Attari in Punjab after the parleys. "The Pakistan side was urged to reconsider its position," he said.
The fee issue in an important aspect for India as the pilgrimage to the famour Gurdwara will take place in respect to the sentiment of the people. "Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit smooth and easy access through the Corridor," he said. Thus, owing to 'certain differences' on a few key issues, the agreement could not be finalised.
Wednesday's meeting was the third round of parleys between two sides and according to Indian side was accepted to be the concluding round. The earlier rounds of talks, including at Wagah in Pakistan on July 14, was marred by reference to security issues as Indian side had mounted pressure on Pakistan to act against New York-based 'Sikhs for Justice', which the Government of India has outlawed.
After the crucial second round of talks held at Wagah on Pakistani side of the international border, Mr SCL Das, the leader of Indian delegation, had said on July 14 that the Pakistani delegation has been conveyed "in very emphatic terms" about all concerns on security related matters. ".....they will act on the assurances...," Mr Das had said to a question at the media briefing on whether India trusts Pakistan on these assurances.
"About security concerns, we have said earlier also and now I am repeating, it is a matter of paramount concern...There is no possibility of any let up from either side," he had said. However, the developments of Wednesday suggested that the talks between India and Pakistan on Kartarpur corridor inched forward as the two sides broadly agreed that the corridor will be operational "throughout the year, seven days a week" and pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot.
Both sides also agreed upon ensuring safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims. "Pakistan has been requested, once again, to allow protocol officers from India to accompany pilgrims every day for facilitating their visit. The Pakistan side has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims," a government source said. The Pakistan delegation led by Director General (South Asia and SAARC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sources said. The two sides in their deliberations on Wednesday said the agreement on visa free travel of Indian pilgrims, "without any restrictions based on their faith" was also agreed upon.
"Persons of Indian origin holding Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card too can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Corridor. It was also agreed that 5,000 pilgrims can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Corridor every day. Additional pilgrims, over and above the figure of 5,000, can visit on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion by Pakistan side. "Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible", the source said.
On the fees issue, Indian delegation leader Mr Das said New Delhi would expect that Islamabad shows 'some flexibility' on the matter as the pilgrimage is linked to people's sentiment "across nationalities and across religious faith". "It is a people's project....," he sought to underline. Mr Das also said as people of various social statuses would be visiting, there would be necessity for allowing the presence of protocol officers for security and facilitation matters. "We have hopes that Pakistan will adopt a positive approach and reconsider Indian demands vis-a-vis these two issues of fees and presence of protocol officials," he said.
The Indian officials has also maintained that significant progress has been made to build a state-of-the-art infrastructure, including passenger terminal on the Indian side that can handle over 15,000 pilgrims in a day, and is targeted to be completed by October, 2019. The work on the four-lane highway up to the International Boundary on the Indian side is on schedule. It will be completed by end of September 2019. All the facilities on Indian side would be ready for the pilgrimage through Kartarpur Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Devji, sources said.UNI