NEW DELHI: The success of the Kartarpur Corridor hinges on a quarter-of-a-kilometre bridge over a creek that Pakistan is currently reluctant to construct.
As India and Pakistan head to the next round of talks on the Kartarpur Corridor on Sunday, the Indian government is confident of completing by October 31 a sophisticated passenger terminal and a four-lane approach road and bridge to the Pakistani border for pilgrims going to Kartarpur Sahib.
“We have high expectations from this meeting and look forward to commencing the pilgrimage by November and hope the other side will match up. On the bilateral front, we have entered into discussions with Pakistan,” a senior government source said on Friday. The first discussions were held in Attari on March 14. The second round will be on Sunday.
While the government strongly refuted suggestions from Pakistan that India was lagging in the construction, the mismatch between the Indian and Pakistani approaches at this point centres on a 250-metre bridge. India is building a raised bridge across a tributary of the Ravi river as part of the corridor. Pakistan has been asked to build a bridge on the other side. Pakistan has instead offered to build an embankment or a surface-level dirt causeway. India has told Pakistan this would put villages and even Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side at risk of flooding since Pakistan’s action would effectively put a barrier on the creek. This issue would be front and centre at Sunday’s talks.
The other issues to be discussed include logistics. Indian officials said this included “modalities on who can use the corridor, what kind of travel documentation would be required, nature of permissions, how many people can travel in a day, whether there would be extra provision during special occasions like Guru Purab and Baisakhi, whether travel would be in government transport or on foot etc”. India wants pilgrims to be able to access Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year.
The big concern on the Indian side is security. There are fears that Pakistan could play mischief in any number of ways. Indian security officials believe Pakistan really wants to restart the Sikh extremist movement in India again, a perception strengthened by Pakistan’s inclusion of Khalistani leader Gopal Singh Chawla in the official delegation. “Security is non-negotiable for us. We are putting in place very advanced high-tech security and surveillance systems on the corridor,” a home ministry official said. It was to reinforce India’s security concerns that the government banned Pakistan-supported Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice earlier this week.
MHA officials said construction work at the passenger building was “going on in full swing and will cater to 5,000 pilgrims daily and 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions”. The terminal, officials said, was being built on 15 acres of land, with 54 check-in counters, immigration and customs clearance facilities, and a “robust” security system. The construction only involves a foundation, and the entire structure would be made of pre-fabricated steel and installed at the spot. “Once the foundation is complete, the rest will be done very fast,” an official said.