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Caught Between Sikh Sentiment and National Security, Govt Pushes Back Kartarpur Talks

While maintaining that it is keen on operationalising the corridor which has been a long-pending demand of the Sikh community, India has raised concerns over pro-Khalistani elements being part of the Pakistani committee on the corridor.

Maha Siddiqui | CNN-News18

Updated:March 29, 2019, 9:07 PM IST
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Caught Between Sikh Sentiment and National Security, Govt Pushes Back Kartarpur Talks
Sikh pilgrims visit the shrine of Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. (AP Photo/KM Chaudary)

New Delhi: As the BJP intensifies its ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign, the issue of national security is being pushed into the spotlight this election.

While the Congress has cornered the government over the intelligence failure that resulted in the dastardly terror attack in Pulwama leading to the killing of 40 CRPF jawans, the BJP has targeted the opposition parties for questioning the Balakot air strike.

The BJP is on the offensive and the Congress has also decided to not back down and tackle the issue head-on.

Caught between Sikh sentiment and national security this election season, the government has finally decided to seek clarification from Pakistan on the proposed Kartarpur Corridor.

While maintaining that it is keen on operationalising the corridor which has been a long-pending demand of the Sikh community, India has raised concerns over pro-Khalistani elements being part of the Pakistani committee on the corridor.

The Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner was called in on Friday and India said it will consider new dates for a meeting on modalities of the corridor once Pakistan sends a report regarding India’s concerns. The meeting was slated for April 2 in Wagah.

Sources said objectionable entities like Gopal Singh Chawla, Tara Singh, Maninder Singh, Besant Singh and Kuljeet Singh were part of the 10-member Pakistani committee to facilitate movement through the Kartarpur corridor.

Chawla, general secretary of the Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee in Pakistan, is known for his association with proscribed terrorist Hafiz Saeed and for pro-Khalistani propaganda.

The others, sources said have been making statements inciting violence and promoting hatred. They said the presence of such people on the committee puts a question mark on Pakistan's intentions behind the corridor.

Sources said there can be no let up on security and Pakistan needs to satisfy India on this count.

It is to be noted that Chawla was present last year at the ground-breaking ceremony in Kartarpur when two union ministers - Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri - represented India at the event in Pakistan. He was also seen posing for a photograph with Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.

On March 13, a day before the Pakistani delegation came for the talks on modalities to Atari, India, Chawla was seen at the meeting headed by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on the Kartarpur Corridor.

Apart from security, there are several other gaps in modalities to operationalise the corridor. One of the major points of diversion remains Pakistan’s insistence on a permits to facilitate the movement of pilgrims when in-principle it has been agreed that the corridor will be visa-free.

Sources said a passport can act as an identity document and increasing paperwork in the form of seeking a permit will defeat the very purpose of a visa-free corridor.

A list with the names of the pilgrims will be shared by the Indian side and since it will only be a dawn to dusk visit such red-tape can be cut out.

India is ready to facilitate the movement of 5,000 pilgrims per day but Pakistan says it can’t allow more than 500 in a day owing to infrastructural constraints. Coupled with this is the fact that India wants people of Indian origin with OCI cards to also be able to use this corridor, an idea Pakistan is not amenable to.

Pakistan though has agreed to facilitate Indians of all religious backgrounds to use the corridor for a pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib.

Pakistan is also not forthcoming on movement on foot and wants pilgrims to travel only in batches. India also wants the corridor to be operational all seven days of the week. Sources said there still remain huge gaps in the expectations and what is being offered by Pakistan.

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