ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India on Thursday agreed to continue talks aimed at finalising modalities for the Kartarpur Corridor in a rare joint statement issued by the two sides on any issue in recent years.
The meeting at Attari in India to discuss the modalities and draft agreement for facilitation of Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was the first formal interaction between the two neighbours following their recent military standoff.
Contrary to the overall hostile relationship, the two sides said the meeting was held in a ‘cordial environment.’ The Pakistani delegation led by Dr Muhammad Faisal, the head of South Asia desk at the foreign ministry, crossed the Wagah border on foot for the first of a series of meetings on the corridor.
Before walking across the border, Faisal told reporters that opening the corridor to allow Sikhs access to their most reverential place of worship had been a longstanding request of the Sikh community.
“This is also reflective of the importance and primacy that Pakistan gives to all its minorities,” said Faisal, who is also spokesperson of the Foreign Office.
He said Pakistan was holding talks with India as part of its “constructive engagement and flexibility and in line with our sincere efforts to deescalate the situation for regional peace and stability.”
Pakistan also hopes the Kartarpur initiative would lead to more meaningful engagement with India.
“We hope that this initiative of the prime minister will not only facilitate Sikhs, especially from India but in the current vitiated situation can be a step forward in the right direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship,” Faisal said.
A joint statement, which was the first since 2015, said the both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. The two sides also held expert level discussions between the technical experts on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor.
It was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on April 2. This will be preceded by a meeting of technical experts on March 19 at the proposed zero points to finalise the alignment.
Kartarpur is a small town in Narowal, 4 km from the Pakistan-India border, where the founder of the Sikh religion, Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life.
Subsequently, Gurdwara Darbar Sahab was built at the site on the Pakistan side and Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak in India, which are visited by thousands of Sikhs every year.
In January, Pakistan shared its draft agreement with India and proposed that Pakistan delegation may visit India on March 14 followed by visit of the Indian delegation to Pakistan.
Last month, when Pakistan and India were almost on the brink of a war, there were fears that talks on the Kartarpur Corridor might not take place. But Pakistan stuck to the planned talks forcing India to reciprocate since Sikhs in India also wanted the corridor to be operational later this year.
While there may be a forward movement on the Kartarpur initiative, there is little possibility of resumption of dialogue process between the two countries on other subjects.
In fact, the day the two sides met at Attari, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made it clear that her country would not enter into any dialogue unless “Pakistan takes decisive action against terrorist groups.”