Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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Pakistan Agrees To Visa-free Entry Of 5,000 Indian Pilgrims Daily

In a clear message to Islamabad that secessionist activities of pro-Khalistan elements operating in Pakistan will not be tolerated, India on Sunday handed over a dossier about their activities to Pak officials during the second round of talks on the Kartarpur Corridor.

Pakistan is learnt to have assured the Indian delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed. India said it shared “concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims”. The Indian delegation also sought consular presence at Kartarpur Sahib to be able to provide assistance to the pilgrims, if required.

Notwithstanding Indian concerns over Khalistani elements, India and Pakistan appeared to have found common ground on many issues concerning Kartarpur Corridor and made significant progress towards its operationalisation.

“Progress was made in finalising the draft Agreement with regard to the modalities,” the ministry of external affairs said: It maintained that both sides agreed to maintain a channel of communication and work towards finalisation of the Agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. They also decided that technical teams would meet again to ensure seamless connectivity for the corridor and make it operational by November 2019.

Pakistan agreed to allow visa-free entry of 5,000 Indian pilgrims per day to enable them to visit Kartarpur Sahib where Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak spent his final days. India is hopeful that Pakistan will allow the number of pilgrims to be increased later.

For now, Pakistan has said that it cannot host more than this number owing to “infrastructural constraints on their side”. “We hope that more pilgrims will be allowed to go once the capacity increases, said SCL Das, joint secretary (internal security) in the ministry of home affairs who led the delegation and briefed reporters after the meeting.

Both Indian citizens and those holding Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards will be permitted to visit Kartarpur Sahib by Pakistan, said Das. Travel will be permitted for all 365 days of the year and it can be done individually or as part of a group, he added. Further, the two sides have also agreed that travel to this gurudwara will be from dawn to dusk.
Regarding Khalistani elements who India believes are receiving state backing in Pakistan, the home ministry official made it amply clear that India has a zero tolerance policy towards secessionist activities. He said security is of paramount concern to India and concerns about it were raised during the talks today.

While handing over the dossier, India also expressed its concerns about Khalistani elements operating from Pakistani soil. The Indian delegation also sought confirmation from the Pak officials about Khalistan proponent Gopal Singh Chawla’s removal from the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC). The Pak side responded by saying this was indeed the case.

Despite the removal of Chawla, irritants for India in the new PSGPC remain. For, another Khalistan supporter, Ameer Singh whose brother Bishen Singh too is a leading pro-Khalistan activist has found his way onto the panel. Asked about Ameer Singh’s inclusion in the reconstituted PSGPC, Das said; “I have no information (on this). Earlier, we had issued a demarche and sought specific action (against Chawla) and they have complied.”

Drawing attention to the recent ban imposed by the Indian government on an outfit called Sikhs for Justice by the Indian government, Das said the outfit seeking secession from India “has a few people who are campaigning against Punjab and the entire country”. He further warned that “such activities will not be tolerated”.

At today’s meeting, the Indian delegation also conveyed its concerns regarding the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak and adjoining areas on the Indian side as a result of the earth filled embankment road or a causeway that Pakistan plans to construct on its side, said the MEA. The Indian delegation shared detailed flood analysis with Pakistan to underscore these concerns. Details of the bridge that India is building on its side were shared and Pakistan was urged to also build a bridge on their side. According to the MEA, the Pak delegation agreed in principle.


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