Two days before the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, India said on Thursday it will strictly abide by an agreement on the project, including documents needed for accessing the corridor, and dismissed changes proposed by Pakistan as “posturing”.
The prime ministers of both countries are set to inaugurate separate sections of the corridor, which links Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur to Durbar Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, on Saturday against the backdrop of heightened bilateral tensions and the snapping of almost of all formal contacts.
The run-up to the formal opening of the corridor has been marked by unilateral announcements by Pakistan’s leadership, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, that pilgrims won’t be required to carry passports or to register 10 days before their planned visit – both mandatory conditions under the agreement signed on October 24.
The “conflicting reports” emanating from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership has only caused confusion, and India will follow the conditions listed in the Kartarpur Corridor agreement till it is amended to include provisions proposed by Pakistan, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told a weekly news briefing.
“As of now, there is a bilateral document signed by India and Pakistan which clearly specifies the documents required to undertake the visit…any amendment to the existing MoU can’t be done unilaterally. It requires the consent of both parties,” he said.
Faced with a flurry of questions on the measures proposed by Pakistan, Kumar said: “This MoU was agreed on after several meetings and negotiations. Pakistan has no right to say that it has unilaterally changed things in the agreement. This agreement was signed about 15 days ago, why couldn’t they propose these changes earlier?
“This is posturing and I wonder why they’re doing it. They could have brought up these measures in the negotiations. These afterthoughts and these attempts to show they are making big concessions is only giving rise to confusion.”
Following remarks by the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on the entry requirements for Indian pilgrims using the Kartarpur Corridor, the Foreign Office clarified Pakistan has “waived” the requirement of passports under certain conditions.
Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Faisal told a briefing the government had decided the pilgrims will no longer have to carry their passports or register 10 days in advance. He said the service fee of $20 to be paid by every pilgrim will be waived on November 9 and 12.
Ghafoor said pilgrims will be allowed to enter using “permits” or passports.
Faisal contended the Kartarpur Corridor was Pakistan’s initiative. “Not to rub it in, but this was solely Pakistan’s initiative. This was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative which India then agreed to,” he said.
However, the Indian side said Pakistan failed to address several other issues related to the inaugural ‘jatha’ or batch of 550 pilgrims – including some 150 VVIPs and dignitaries such as former premier Manmohan Singh and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh – expected to cross through the corridor on November 9.
Kumar pointed out Pakistan was required under the agreement to clear their names four days before the visit but this had still not been done.
Despite several requests, an advance team hadn’t been permitted to visit Pakistan to assess security, protocol and medical arrangements for the dignitaries, he said.
“We presume all the names that we shared with the Pakistani side, they stand confirmed, and we have advised the people who are part of the inaugural jatha to prepare for the journey,” he said.
Kumar added: “We have requested the Pakistan side that proper arrangements for security and protocol, as well as medical arrangements should be made for the dignitaries.”
The Indian side has already flagged that some of the dignitaries face threats from Khalistani terror groups and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. India also has concerns that despite the projection of Kartarpur as a “corridor of peace”, the project could be leveraged by elements in Pakistan to fan separatist sentiments in Punjab state.
India and Pakistan had agreed in November last year to open the Kartarpur Corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Guru Nanak spent the final years of his life at the site in Pakistani Punjab where the Durbar Sahib gurdwara was built