Growing security and other concerns in India over the Pakistani approach to the Kartarpur Corridor have delayed the April 2 meeting between the two sides. India’s concerns were reportedly conveyed to the Pakistani deputy high commissioner in South Block this morning and pending their response, which is awaited, the date for the meeting will be fixed.
Sources indicated that security is of mounting concern. “Security is standalone,” sources warned, pointing to some disturbing actions by Pakistan. These include nominating five people, all Khalistani separatists, to the 10-member panel set up on the Kartarpur Corridor.
One of them Gopal Singh Chawla is associated with Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar- e-Toiba and is reportedly linked to the grenade attack on the Nirankari Bhawan in Amritsar in November last year. He was also reportedly involved in preventing Indian diplomats from visiting a gurudwara in Lahore last year.
Others are Tara Singh, Kuljeet Singh, Maninder Singh and Bisan Singh. It was not immediately clear if there were any criminal or terrorism cases registered against them in India.
The sources apprehended the use of these elements by Pakistan to “instigate anti-India activities in the Kartarpur Corridor and spread anti-Indian propaganda among visiting Sikh pilgrims. Our pilgrims should be able visit in a safe environment as asked for in the last meeting,” sources said.
There were also issues regarding the facilitation and movement of pilgrims, sources said, indicating “gaps in positions” between the two countries. India has proposed sending 5000 pilgrims through the Kartarpur Corridor at a time, those numbers rising to 10,000 during festivals such as Gurupurab. Pakistan wants to limit it to around 500-700 with movement only in groups, no individuals. They have cited infrastructural constraints.
India wants the corridor to be accessible to all its citizens throughout the year and seven days a week. “The corridor should be accessible to people of all faiths since Guru Nanak is venerated by Hindus among others,” the sources said. It also wants Pakistan to accept the OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card; New Delhi in also not in favour of the Pakistani proposal for a permit system and fee.
The sources said work on the corridor is well in hand. Nearly Rs 200 crore ($29 mn) has been sanctioned for building a state-of-art passenger terminal spreading over 21,000 square feet which would have 54 immigration counters. Fifty acres of land has been demarcated and physical possession taken of 15 acres on which construction work has begun. The National Highways Authority of India is also acquiring 23 hectares of land for the 4.2-km highway leading to the passenger terminal on the border.
India is hopeful the corridor will open by September, when celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak begin. It remains to be seen if Pakistan will play ball or revert to the familiar games it is notorious for.