Pak shows ‘inflexibility’ at Kartarpur talks

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New Delhi/Attari (Amritsar), Sep 4 (IANS) No agreement could be reached on modalities for operationalising the Kartarpur Corridor even in the third round of talks held on Wednesday as Pakistan showed “inflexibility” and insisting on charging $20 as service fee from each pilgrim which India rejected.
Informed sources, aware of the developments, said “owing to certain differences on a few key issues, the agreement could not be finalized”.
“Pakistan has insisted on charging $20 as service fee from each pilgrim for allowing him/her to visit Gurduwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable for smooth and easy access of the Corridor,” they said.
“It showed inflexibility and was described as a redline. It was strongly opposed by the Indian side.”
There was no agreement over another issue when the Indian side asked the Pakistan delegation involved in the talks to reconsider their position but the neighboring country did not agree to indicate 10,000 as the number of additional pilgrims allowed on special occasions.
The Pakistan delegation cited infrastructure constraints and said they could agree to allow “more pilgrims” on special occasions subject to available capacity, said the source.
Pakistan also showed “inflexibility” in allowing Indian consular presence or permitting protocol officials to travel every day to extend facilitation to pilgrims going to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib through the corridor.
“It seems they came with a brief to not conclude an agreement. They wanted to indulge in propaganda than serious talks. Indian side urged them to take political guidance and reconsider positions taken,” said the source.
The two countries have already agreed on visa-free travel of 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily throughout the year, without restrictions, based on their faith. Persons of Indian origin holding Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards too can visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor.
A total of 5,000 pilgrims can visit Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor every day and additional pilgrims, over and above the figure of 5,000, can visit on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion by the Pakistan side.
Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible, said the source.
“We hope good sense prevails and both the issues are resolved, particularly that of service fee,” S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary – internal security in the Home Ministry, told reporters at Attari.
“The progress (on the construction of the corridor) is not insignificant. We are hopeful we will come out with some solution.”
In the third round of talks held on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border, India and Pakistan were expected to finalize the draft agreement for opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor in November on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
The talks were held between the Indian delegation led by Joint Secretary Das and a Pakistan delegation led by Director General (South Asia and SAARC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Kartarpur Sahib corridor links Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district with Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan’s Narowal.
The two sides 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 agreed to build the bridge at Budhi Ravi Channel. Pending the construction of the bridge on the Pakistan side, both sides agreed to the crossing point coordinates of the temporary service road being built.”
The delegations from both sides agreed upon emergency evacuation procedures, especially medical emergencies, said the source. “A direct line of communication between Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers will be used for the same.”
The decision arrived at the technical level meeting on August 30 this year regarding sharing of details of pilgrims using the corridor was endorsed by both the sides.
“Both sides agreed upon ensuring safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims.”
The Pakistan side has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims.
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, said the source.
“The work on the 4-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 Guru Nanak Devji.”

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