New Delhi: The alleged involvement of Khalistani separatists in Pakistan’s panel for Kartarpur Corridor talks remains a stumbling block in discussions on the matter, an Indian official involved in the initiative said.
The next round of high-level talks on the corridor, which will allow Indians, especially Sikhs, access to a sacred site across the border, are scheduled to be held in Wagah, Pakistan, on 14 July, Sunday.
The talks were earlier scheduled for 2 April, but called off over concerns in New Delhi that Pakistan was encouraging Khalistani separatists, who seek Punjab’s secession from India.
“Security remains and will remain one of the topmost concerns for India,” the official told ThePrint. “We will not compromise on that, come what may. We will raise the issue of Khalistani elements being part of the project in this meeting also.”
The official said Pakistan had not addressed the issue despite the fact that it led India to call off talks the last time.
Four members in Pakistan’s 10-member committee on Kartarpur Corridor — Gopal Singh Chawla, Bishen Singh, Tara Singh and Maninder Singh — allegedly have links with the Khalistan movement. The panel was created on 27 March.
India also alleged that, of the four, Chawla had links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and is seen as an aide of its founder, the 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed.
‘Work on in full swing’
The Kartarpur Corridor seeks to link the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district with the Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Narowal, Pakistan, which is the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak. The Darbar Sahib Kartarpur lies across the Ravi river from India.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the four-kilometre corridor took place on 28 November last year.
Official sources told ThePrint that work is on in full swing at Dera Baba Nanak to set up a 15-acre complex that will serve as a terminal for pilgrims.
The construction is being carried out by the firm Shapoorji-Pallonji Pvt Ltd under the supervision of the Land Ports Authority of India, which is overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the sources, the excavation for the foundation is nearly complete.
The final plan is to have 52 immigration counters, with facilities for customs clearance. The entire project will cost an estimated Rs 500 crore.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Thursday that India will be completing the entire project by 31 October.
Even so, talks between the two countries remain hung up on several differences, raising questions over whether the corridor will be operational by the proposed deadline, 12 November, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
On the Indian side, the Kartarpur Corridor will be connected from Dera Baba Nanak to the international border.
The area where this connection is to be built gets periodically flooded as it lies on the slope of the Ravi river.
Because of this, India will be building a bridge to the Pakistan side for easy movement of pilgrims. It has also asked Pakistan to build a connecting flyover on their side, but Islamabad hasn’t agreed to it.
There are also differences over the travel documents pilgrims will be required to carry, while the number of devotees to be allowed has not been agreed on either.
While India wants as many as 5,000 pilgrims to be allowed on a daily basis and about 10,000-15,000 during religious occasions, Pakistan believes such a large number cannot be allowed in the initial phase.
The issues remain unresolved despite the fact that three rounds of technical-level talks — involving engineers and other experts on construction-related matters — have taken place since March.
The Indian delegation at the high-level talks Sunday will be led by joint secretary (Foreigners) Ministry of Home Affairs, Anil Malik, while Mohammed Faisal, director general, South Asia, at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry will represent Pakistan.
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