ISLAMABAD: Senior Pakistani and Indian officials are set to meet on Thursday (today) at the Wagah-Attari border crossing to finalise agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor that would give Sikh devotees from India visa-free access to one of their holy places in Pakistan.
Talks are taking place against the backdrop of the recent military standoff triggered after a suicide bombing targeting the Indian paramilitary forces in Pulwama on February 14.
Initially, it was feared that the corridor talks might be cancelled given the tit-for-tat air strikes launched — both by Pakistan and India — against each other.
Pakistan; however, last week announced that it would not pull out of the planned talks, forcing the Indian government to reciprocate.
The Pakistani delegation, to be led by Dr Muhammad Faisal, the Director General for South Asia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who also happens to be the spokesperson of the ministry, was originally supposed to travel to New Delhi.
India; however, changed the venue and conveyed to Pakistan that the talks would be held at the Wagah-Attari border on the Indian side.
A senior Foreign Office official said the reason for the change of venue by India was probably because of domestic reasons.
Given the anti-Pakistan stance taken by the Modi government, the official said, New Delhi did not want to give any impression of de-escalation in tensions just weeks before the parliamentary elections in India.
At the same time, India couldn’t afford pulling out of the Kartarpur meeting altogether since the move would not have gone down well with the Sikh community in India.
The Pakistani delegation is expected to walk across the Wagah border on Thursday morning and return the same day after the talks with Indian officials.
Pakistan has already shared a draft agreement regarding operationalisation of the corridor. The Indian side would pay a return visit on March 28.
Although talks are seen as sign of de-escalation, the Indian government denied visas to Pakistani journalists, who wanted to cover the talks.
Reacting to the development, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Faisal regretted the Indian decision.
Faisal said that during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor in November last year, more than 30 Indian journalists covered the event in Pakistan.
They also met Prime Minister Imran Khan and were hosted by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for a dinner.
“Regrettable that #India has not given visas to #Pakistani journalists for the #kartarpur meeting tomorrow. Hope the #PakKartarpurSpirit & meeting tomorrow will bring a change for the better for people of both countries,” the spokesperson wrote in a tweet.
Pakistan first announced to open the corridor in August last year when former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu attended the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In November, the prime minister formally performed the ground breaking of the corridor that once completed would connect two Sikh holy sites — Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan and Dera Baba Nanak in India.
Pakistan’s friendly gesture was meant to facilitate the Indian Sikh community to visit the sacred places where Baba Guru Nanak, their spiritual leader, lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.