ISLAMABAD: Just a day before inauguration of the first ever visa free border crossing between Pakistan and India, the Kartarpur initiative hit a controversy when New Delhi on Thursday refused to accept special concessions offered by Islamabad to the pilgrims.
As a special gesture, Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this week waived the conditions for the pilgrims to carry passport for the 550th celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak; the requirement to convey pilgrim information to the Government of Pakistan 10 days prior to the entry through Kartarpur Sahib Corridor; and US $ 20 service charges per pilgrim, per visit, on November 9 and 12.
The decision was conveyed formally to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the Government of India. However, foreign office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal in a statement said India had refused to accept the concessions.
"As a special gesture, #Pakistan announced concessions on the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of #BabaGuruNanak to facilitate pilgrims. This has been REFUSED by #India in blatant disregard of Sikh sentiments," Dr Faisal said on Twitter.
He said it appears that India was confused over Pakistan's offer.
"If India does not wish to avail these facilitative measures for pilgrims, it is India's choice. India is creating confusion to confuse," Faisal added.
The controversy erupted as the prime minister is all set to open the historic corridor on Saturday that would allow Indian pilgrims particularly Sikhs to visit the Shrine of Guru Nanak, located just over 4 kilometers from the international border inside Pakistan.
The project went ahead despite overall tensions between Pakistan and India over the longstanding Kashmir dispute. India reluctantly reciprocated to Pakistan's initiative since the government there knew that backtracking from the Kartarpur Corridor would only antagonise Sikhs in India.
As the date for the formal inauguration gets closer, Indian media reports have attempted to undermine the Kartarpur Corridor by casting aspersions that Pakistan might use this initiative to revive the Sikh separatist movement.
The chief minister of Indian Punjab also accused that Pakistan might have a sinister plan under the Kartarpur initiative. Speaking at the weekly news briefing, the foreign office spokesperson Dr Faisal dismissed such allegations as mere propaganda.
"On the question regarding spreading of negativity by the Indian chief minister, I, as the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can only stress upon the positivity of this initiative and our government's policy. I want to state this categorically that there is not even a modicum of any negative element in our policy.
"We hope and expect that the corridor would be an opportunity, especially for the Sikh community and all the Nanak NaamLevas to come and observe their prayers at Baba Guru Nanak shrine here in Pakistan, which has been their longstanding request," he added.
Moreover, he said, the expected number of pilgrims who will visit the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is in thousands, because they will come from three different points of entry and the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is only one of the access points.
"The pilgrims who will visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib will arrive and depart from the corridor, on the same day. This is a dedicated corridor for the Nanak Naamlevas coming from India. The visitors cannot go to any other place except the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib," he said.
The spokesperson confirmed that Navjot Singh Sidhu, former test cricketer and friend of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has been issued a visa. "We will warmly welcome him on the opening Ceremony."
Regarding question about the prospects of talks on other issues with India, the spokesperson said Pakistan is ready to talk and negotiate with India on all matters.
"It is India, which has been unwilling to engage with Pakistan. Pakistan firmly believes that all the disputes, whether Jammu & Kashmir, IWT, Sir Creek, Siachen etc. and the opening of more such corridors between Pakistan and India can only be dealt with via dialogue," Faisal said.
India has stopped the intra-Kashmir trade which was taking place, at three points.
"Facts are clear, you are all aware that Prime Minister of Pakistan wrote to Prime Minister Modi on 14th September, last year, recommending that Pakistan and India should engage in a dialogue on all outstanding matters. India accepted the request on 20th September 2018 but back-tracked the very next day."
He said the only way in which disputes could be resolved was through dialogue. On the contrary, India has taken numerous aggressive steps, thereby, jeopardising the peace and stability of the region.
He noted that India's unilateral and illegal steps after August 5 were a manifestation of its nefarious designs. "Despite all this, Pakistan is an advocate of peace and harmony in the region and that is our stated policy."
Harassment of Pakistani diplomats
The spokesperson said the officers and staff of the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul had been harassed continuously. They were being obstructed on the road and the embassy vehicles were also hit by motorcycles while they were traveling in the Afghan capital.
He said the Afghan government has been reminded that being party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities 1961, it is the responsibility of the Afghanistan to ensure safety, security and freedom of movement of to all members of the mission.
"We have urged the Afghan Government to ensure safety and security of the personnel. As regards resumption of visa services, please note that we have resumed visa services for medical emergencies on humanitarian grounds," he added.