The Pakistan delegation at the Wagah border crossing before leaving for the Kartarpur Corridor talks. Image Credit: Pakistan Foreign Office

Islamabad: After a month of intensive tensions, Pakistan and India officials held first high-level talks on Kartarpur Corridor at Wagah Attari border on Thursday.

It was the first meeting to discuss and devise the mechanism for opening of visa-free Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate Sikh community in both countries.

Pakistan and India held “positive talks in a conducive environment” on the draft agreement of Kartarpur Corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal district with Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur, the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal told media after the meeting. He added the “progress could only be made as the environment [on both sides] was conducive.”

Dr Muhammad Faisal, Director General South Asia and SAARC, led the Pakistani side while Indian Joint Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs SCL Das headed the Indian delegation.

“Both sides held detailed and constructive discussion on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor” according to the joint statement issued afterwards.

The first summit to discuss modalities and the draft agreement for facilitation of Sikh pilgrims would be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on March 19 to finalise the alignment.

“The second round of talks will be held on April 2 on Pakistan’s side of the border,” informed the FO official. There were some differences on certain aspects, but overall the meeting was positive, he added.

Talking to media at Wagah border before the meeting, Dr Faisal said Pakistan is continuing with spirit of constructive engagement and flexibility. The dialogue on corridor could be a step forward in the right direction in the current vitiated situation from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship, he maintained.

He expressed hope that the initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan would not only benefit the Sikh community but also help bring peace between the two nations. “The opening of Kartarpur corridor is a long-standing demand of the Sikhs community and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative is reflective of the importance that Pakistan gives to all its minorities,” Dr Faisal added.

Sharing his views on the Kartarpur meeting, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “Pakistan’s desire of opening the Kartarpur Corridor is being acknowledged and appreciated by the world community.” He added that Pakistan is looking forward to welcome Sikh pilgrims from India to celebrate 550th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak.

However, Pakistan FO regretted India’s decision to not grant visas to Pakistani journalists to cover the Kartarpur meeting whereas “More than 30 Indian journalists covered the Kartarpur ground-breaking ceremony in Pakistan last year”, who also met Pakistani premier and were hosted by foreign minister, FO spokesman shared on Twitter.

Thursday’s meeting between Pakistan and India finally paved the way for normalisation of ties between the two long-time rivals and South Asian neighbours who edged towards the brink of nuclear war in the last week of February.

The proposal for Kartarpur corridor has been on the table since 1988 but tense relations between the two countries led to the delay. In November 2018, PM Imran Khan laid the foundation of the long-awaited corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

Kartarpur is located in Shakargarh in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province where Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, had spent more than 18 years of his life. Kartarpur’s Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is situated at the bank of River Ravi only 4 kilometres away from India’s border. The initiative called “Kartarpur Corridor” would allow for visa-free travel for Sikh pilgrims is planned to be opened on 550th birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev this year.