India tries to blunt Pakistan’s initiative, sends own invite

ISLAMABAD: Wary of Pakistan’s invitation to negotiations over the agreement on the planned Kartarpur Corridor, India asked Pakistani officials to visit New Delhi for talks on the issue and suggested Feb 26 and March 7 as the two possible dates for the meeting.

“India has also proposed two set of dates, 26 February and 7 March 2019, for the visit of Pakistan delegation to New Delhi to discuss and finalise the modalities so that the Indian pilgrims can visit the holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor at the earliest,” the Indian external affairs ministry said in a statement issued in New Delhi.

The statement was issued in response to the draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor shared by Pakistan with India and the accompanying invitation to initiation of negotiations for its finalisation.

By giving a counter-invitation to Pakistan instead of accepting its invitation for negotiations, India seemed to be avoiding the tough choice between rejecting the proposal and accepting Islamabad’s call for talks.

Pakistan had asked the Indian government to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad” for negotiating the agreement.

India has during PM Narendra Modi’s tenure avoided resumption of dialogue with Pakistan on the pretext that its terrorism concerns are not being addressed. The Modi government has been particularly suspicious of Pakistani move to offer opening of Kartarpur Corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, in November this year even though it accepted it out of its domestic political compulsions.

The Indian government had sent two cabinet members — Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh — to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony of the project in November.

Later, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj claimed that the two ministers went to the Gurudwara ‘to offer pra­yers’ and had not been trapped by Pakistani ‘googlies’. Her comments were in response to Foreign Minis­ter Shah Mahmood Qure­shi’s remarks that Prime Minister Imran had “bowled a googly at India by opening the Kartarpur border corridor.”

Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal, who is also Pakistan’s focal person for negotiations on the Kartarpur Corridor agreement, talking to media on the Indian invite said that it’s clear to everyone that Islamabad’s invitation came before Delhi invited it.

The Indian external affairs ministry further said that it had shared the coordinates of the zero point (crossing point) of the corridor along the International Border with Pakistan. This, it said, was done in line with “the decision taken by the Government of India on 22 November 2018 to expeditiously realise the long pending proposal to establish Kartarpur Corridor”.

Pakistan’s FO had while sharing the draft agreement and extending invitation to India said that its actions were in accordance with “Islamic principles that advocate respect for all religions and Pakistan’s policy of promoting inter-faith harmony and religious tolerance and also in line with Quaid’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood.”

Pakistan is to construct the nearly four-km-long corridor from the border to the Gurudwara in Kartarpur Sahib, whereas India is to develop the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak, in East Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, to the international border.

Once the corridor is operational, Sikh pilgrims from India would enjoy visa-free access to the shrine.