At a time when relations between India and Pakistan are going through extreme chill amid occasional military escalation, the prospective operationalisation of the Kartarpur Corridor next month stands out as one positive development.
Despite the tensions, the two countries have been holding talks on opening the corridor for pilgrimage to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, which is located in Pakistani Punjab's Narowal area.
The corridor is to be thrown open in November to mark the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, who spent his final days there.
The two sides continued with the process of operationalising the corridor even after Pakistan scaled down its diplomatic ties with India after the abolition of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan unilaterally expelled Indian High Commissioner and refused to send its own newly-appointed Envoy to New Delhi as a protest against developments in Jammu and Kashmir.
There had been demands in India for building a corridor to allow pilgrims to cross into Pakistan from India to visit the shrine.
An understanding was reached between India and Pakistan last year to build the corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims visa-free travel to the holy shrine.
In November 2018, the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared a proposal for the corridor after which the ground-breaking ceremony on the Indian side was done by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, while on the Pakistan side it was done by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
India and Pakistan held the first round of talks on the corridor on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border on March 14, despite escalated tensions after the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir exactly a month earlier.
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.
The pilgrims would be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot.
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".
India has built a four-lane highway upto the Pakistan border and a state-of-the-art passenger terminal to cater to the movement of thousands of Sikh pilgrims, both of which will be ready by October 31, a week before the celebrations begin. The highway from the Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to the border is 4.2 km.
During the July 14 meeting, India had 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.
India is building a 70 mt long bridge with 10 piers on its side to drain off water from the Ravi river creek, which floods during the rain. A causeway on the Pakistani side would make the flood water drain into India, which is on the lower slope and flood the fields and homes.
The facilities on the Indian side are meant to handle 15,000 pilgrims a day.
India also urged Pakistan to allow "Nagar Kirtan" from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and in October-November as part of the celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru.
The state-of-the-art passenger terminal building will cater to 5,000 people at a time. It will have 52 immigration counters, including two for VVIPs, a spacious lounge and 54 counters for security checking. Once the pilgrims are cleared they would move to Zero Point on the border to proceed straight to Pakistan side of the corridor.
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