India and Pakistan Thursday agreed to work towards “expeditiously” launching the Kartarpur corridor, a decision taken at a meeting held after the recent escalation in tensions between the two countries.
The first meeting between the two sides to finalise the modalities for the proposed corridor linking Gurdaspur in Punjab with the Sikh shrine in Pakistan's Kartarpur took place in a “cordial environment”, a joint statement said. The two delegations met on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border. India has sought visa-free access to the Kartarpur shrine, and suggested that 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit every day.
“There should not be any additional encumbrances in the form of any additional documentation or procedures,” S C L Das, joint secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs who headed the Indian team, told reporters. He said “as a first step”, the two sides agreed that the passport shall be the identification document for the pilgrims. Islamabad is expected to respond to Indian suggestions at the next meeting, scheduled for April 2 at Wagah on the Pakistan side of the border.
Technical experts from both sides will meet earlier, on March 19. Kartarpur Sahib marks the place where Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev, spent the final years of his life. India hopes that the special border crossing for pilgrims will open before his 550th birth anniversary in November. "The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held today at Attari, India, in a cordial environment," the joint statement issued after the meeting said.
"Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor," it said. The meeting took place amid heightened tensions between the two neighbours following India's air strike on a terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in retaliation to a JeM attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama that killed 40 jawans. An Indian official told reporters in Attari that the meeting did not mark the resumption of the dialogue with Pakistan.