New Delhi: The Kartarpur corridor, inaugurated with much fanfare on Saturday to mark the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, saw India and Pakistan holding three rounds of high-level discussions at the joint secretary level before signing of the agreement.
Though India and Pakistan have not resumed official dialogue, both sides held conversations for the past year on the modalities for opening the corridor. Besides the JS-level talks, they also held technical level discussions on the modalities of the corridor and the provisions for Sikh pilgrims.
The corridor comes in response to demands by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and political leaders to build the pathway to allow Indian pilgrims to cross into Pakistan to visit the Kartarpur Sahib shrine, in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab, and return the same day.
The gurdwara, located on the banks of river Ravi in Pakistan, is about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district, and about 120 km northeast of Lahore. Guru Nanak had lived there for 18 years until his death in 1539.
In November 2018, India decided to build the corridor to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. India and Pakistan both agreed to build the corridor on their respective boundaries.
India and Pakistan held the first round of talks on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border on March 14, 2019, exactly a month after the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir.
During the second round of talks on July 14, held at Wagah on the Pakistani side, Pakistan agreed to allow 5,000 pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day. Pakistan also agreed in principle to allow visa-free, year-long travel to the Kartarpur gurdwara for Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders.
Pakistan also assured the Indian delegation that “no anti-India activity would be allowed”.
The second round of talks were earlier set to be held on April 2, but were postponed after India voiced concerns over the presence of separatist Khalistani members in the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC). India had raised objections to the presence of pro-Khalistani leader Gopal Singh Chawla in the PSGPC.
Ahead of the July 14 talks, Pakistan reconstituted the 10-member PSGPC, removing Chawla’s name. But it included the name of another pro-Khalistani leader Ameer Singh in the panel.
During the talks, India handed over a dossier to highlight its concerns on the presence of Khalistanis in Pakistan “who could try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims”.
Ahead of the talks, India banned the foreign-based pro-Khalistan group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) for supporting militancy and secessionism in Punjab.
During the July 14 meeting, India had also conveyed its concerns regarding the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak shrine and adjoining areas on the Indian side as a result of an earth filled embankment road or a causeway that is proposed to be built by Pakistan.
The third round of talks was held on September 4 to discuss and finalise the draft agreement for the operationalisation of the corridor.
A 20-member Pakistani delegation crossed over to India for the joint secretary-level meeting at Attari in Amritsar.
During the talks, Pakistan insisted on charging $20 fee per pilgrim. India requested that the fee be reconsidered. However, Pakistan has stuck to its stand.
Pakistan said the fee is being charged “to supplement the enormous expenditure which the Government of Pakistan has undertaken to complete and maintain the Kartarpur Saheb Corridor and to provide services to the pilgrims”.
Pakistan’s decision to charge $20 has been slammed by many Sikhs in India, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
The two sides inked the MoU on Kartarpur on October 24 at ‘zero point’ on the border.