India’s postponement of talks can endanger Kartarpur initiative: FO

Senior officials were to meet at Wagha border crossing on April 2

Kamran Yousaf March 29, 2019
Work in progress at the Kartarpur Corridor. PHOTO: FOREIGN OFFICE

ISLAMABAD: The postponement of scheduled talks on the Kartarpur Corridor by India could endanger Pakistan’s initiative meant to give Indian Sikhs a visa-free access to their holiest shrine in Narowal, warned the foreign office here on Friday.

Senior officials were to meet at Wagha border crossing on April 2 to finalise modalities for the Kartarpur Corridor. However, India sought rescheduling of the meeting after raising concerns on the committee announced by Pakistan to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims.

The Indian external affairs ministry in a statement, citing reasons for the postponement of talks, said New Delhi had shared “concerns and sought clarifications on reports that controversial elements have been appointed by Pakistan to a committee to be associated with the Kartarpur Corridor.”

India said the next meeting could be scheduled at an appropriate time after receiving Pakistan’s response. Pakistan, however, regretted the Indian decision and cautioned that its move could undermine the plan for opening the first-ever visa-free corridor between the two neighbours.

“We regret the Indian decision to postpone the meeting on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor to be held on 2nd April 2019 as agreed by both sides in the meeting and subsequent Joint Statement of 14 March 2019,” said a statement issued by the foreign office spokesperson.

According to India, Dr Faisal said, it had sought postponement to seek clarification on Indian proposals on the modalities of the corridor and its concerns about ‘appointments to a committee to be associated with Kartarpur Corridor”.

The scheduled meeting was being held to discuss areas of divergence with a view to aligning positions and reaching consensus for an expedited operationalisation of the corridor for the upcoming anniversary of Guru Nanak in November this year, he said. adding that postponing the meeting “only endangers Pakistan’s Kartarpur initiative”.

Responding to the Indian concerns, Faisal clarified that the 10-member, purely religious committee referred to by India [the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC)] was not specific to Kartarpur Sahib but was responsible for upkeep of all Sikh Gurdwaras in Pakistan.

“It is not a new mechanism but was constituted under Section 3 of the “Scheme for Renovation, Maintenance and Preservation of Sikh Holy Shrines” in 2004 and is reconstituted after every three years,” Faisal explained.

He added that postponement of the meeting by India without prior consultations was unfortunate and could stymie the progress made and acknowledged by both sides in the Joint Statement of 14 March.

“Pakistan on its part continues to be committed to uphold its promise to operationalise the Corridor for the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak in November 2019,” he said.

While India backed out of the April 2 talks, it suggested that technical experts could meet in mid-April to resolve the outstanding issues discussed at the last meeting held at zero point on March 19.

The proposal to build a corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak in India with Kartar Sahib in Pakistan has been there for two decades. The idea began to take shape when Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in August last year. In November, he laid the foundation of the corridor that is supposed to be operational on the 550th Birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November this year.

The two sides continued talks on the corridor despite their recent military standoff. India, which otherwise refused to engage with Pakistan, is finding it hard to run away from the Kartarpur initiative given the religious sentiments of Indian Sikhs.