Amid differences over whether the meeting for finalising the modalities for opening of the Kartarpur corridor be held in Delhi or Islamabad, Pakistan has suggested that the meeting take place in Kartarpur itself on March 12. The date too is different from what was proposed by India – February 26 and March 7 – for the meeting.
While Pakistan had officially invited India for Kartarpur talks, the Indian government proposed that the meeting be held here as 2 Indian ministers had already visited Pakistan for the inauguration of the corridor by Pakistan PM Imran Khan. Islamabad had described India’s response as childish and said it would give a “mature” reply.
Islamabad though has not yet officially responded to India’s proposal for a meeting either on February 26 or March 7. According to diplomatic sources it has, as of now, verbally suggested to India that the 2 sides consider holding the meeting in Kartarpur. India will be reluctant to agree as its ministers have already visited Kartarpur. Acknowledging that perhaps, Islamabad has given India another option.
If India doesn’t agree to hold the meeting in Kartarpur on March 12, Islamabad has said it can still consider sending its own delegation to Delhi on the same date provided the Indian government agrees to another round of meeting in Islamabad in late March. Both sides admit that several rounds of meeting will be required to finalise conditions for the opening of the corridor meant to facilitate pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan.
While India is yet to complete the process of land acquisition for the corridor on its side of the border, Pakistan claims to have completed 30 per cent of physical infrastructure work. India remains as committed to completing work on the corridor soon, but it is more “cautious” in its approach because of security concerns. Pakistan’s aggressive foregrounding of the Kashmir issue in the past few weeks has also not helped the government.
The union home ministry held another meeting on Tuesday to expedite work on the project. India has examined the agreement proposed by Pakistan and will soon send its own draft for finalisation by both countries. The meeting on Tuesday focused on land acquisition for the corridor road and also an integrated check post. According to the Punjab government, land will be available for both in the next 3-4 weeks.
When it proposed dates for visit by Pakistan authorities last month, India also shared coordinates of the zero or crossing point of the proposed corridor along the International Border. It’s not known yet if Pakistan has agreed to the same.
Pakistan has appointed its Director-General (South Asia and SAARC) as the focal person for talks with India on the corridor and expects India to announce a counterpart. While Pakistan has offered visa-free travel for 500 pilgrims per day, the Indian government is currently considering a request by Punjab CM to not make passport mandatory for pilgrimage. Islamabad though is likely to insist that pilgrims carry passport which it sees as more reliable than any other identity proof.