ISLAMABAD, Pakistan/CHANDIGARH, India
Indian and Pakistani officials on Thursday held their first meeting on the Indian side of the border in a bid to defuse tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
The officials discussed a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor, which will provide visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit their holy sites in Pakistan.
“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,” said a joint press statement issued following the meeting.
The statement said that Indian delegation was led by S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Pakistan delegation was led by Mohammad Faisal, DG (SA & SAARC) of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalizing the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor,” the statement said.
Last November, Pakistan performed groundbreaking of Kartarpur Corridor in a ceremony attended by two Indian government cabinet ministers.
The corridor will give uninterrupted access to Sikh pilgrims from India to visit their holy site in Pakistan along the international border in Punjab province.
Pakistan and India had agreed to open the Kartarpur border crossing this year.
However, relations between the two South Asian neighbors soured following a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir in mid-February that left at least 40 Indian troops dead.
Tensions mounted further following border skirmishes between the two countries’ air forces in which both sides claimed to have downed each other’s aircraft.
– Next meeting
According to the statement, it was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on April 2. “This will be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on 19 March 2019 at the proposed zero points to finalize the alignment,” it added.
Meanwhile, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar wrote on Twitter: “Respecting the sentiments of the people Talks concluded on various aspects and provisions of the operationalisation of #KartarpurCorridor on the occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji.”
Speaking to reporters at the Wagah Border, aired on state-run PTV, Mohammad Faisal, head of the Pakistani delegation, said the meeting between the two sides was “positive”.
Later, S.C.L Das, head of the Indian delegation, gave briefing to the media about the demands Indian side put forth before the Pakistani officials.
“Among the three demands was that Pakistan allow at least 5,000 pilgrims to visit to the Gurdwara on a daily basis and that on special days […] it [Pakistan] let as many as 10,000 pilgrims visit the shrine,” Das was quoted as saying by daily Hindustan Times.
“The Indian government has also asked Pakistan to allow the Indian pilgrims, including non-resident Indians, visa-free access to the Gurdwara […],” the Indian official added.