Tuesday February 19, 2019
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New Cross-Border Corridor Between India And Pakistan For Sikh Pilgrims

India and Pakistan's independence's from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province where Sikhism was born.

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Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagha railway station to attend the birth anniversary of their spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak, in Pakistan. VOA

South Asian arch rivals India and Pakistan have agreed to establish a new cross-border corridor to enable religious devotees from India’s minority Sikh community to visit a historic holy temple on the Pakistani side.

Analysts said the gesture to build the entry point could help lower long-running border tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Thursday his government has already conveyed to New Delhi the decision to open the proposed Kartarpur Corridor for the 550th anniversary celebrations next year of the birth of Guru Nanak, the Sikhism founder.

“We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” Qureshi tweeted. He announced Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay the foundation stone next Wednesday to begin construction on the Pakistani side.

Sikh Community, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh
Children belonging to Sikh Community, Wikimedia

Qureshi’s statement came hours after India announced it had decided to build and develop its side of the corridor on the International border.

The Indian Foreign Ministry, in a letter delivered through the Pakistani diplomatic mission in New Delhi, said the government has “approached and urged” Pakistan “to recognize the sentiments of the Sikh community” and construct the Kartarpur Corridor with “suitable facilities” to facilitate visits of pilgrims from India.

The proposed border corridor aims to connect the Sikh Holy shrine at Dera Baba Nanak in India to the Kartarpur Gurdwara (temple) in the Pakistani town of Narowal. It is barely three kilometers from the border with India and considered to be the first gurdwara ever built. The place of worship is also known to be the final resting place of the Sikhism founder.

Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said India’s “endorsement” of his government’s proposition on building the corridor is a “victory” of the peace lobby in both countries. He noted that it is a step in the right direction, adding, “We hope such steps will encourage voice of reasons and tranquility on both sides of the border.”

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A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Kartarpur Gurdwara is visible on clear days from a viewing stage on the Indian side, where religious devotees gather every day to have a glimpse of it.

Earlier this week, India’s government announced plans to install a high-powered telescope to enable Sikh devotees to view Kartarpur Gurdwara in Pakistan to coincide with the anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth.

Also Read: Religions For Peace Organisation Promotes Interfaith Forum

India and Pakistan’s independence’s from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province where Sikhism was born. The two countries have since fought three wars and mutual tensions often hamper pilgrims’ plans in terms of getting visas to visit the shrine. Two of those wars have been over the disputed Kashmir region, which remains at the center of tensions. (VOA)

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US-Taliban Meeting Cancelled, 14 Members on “The US and UN Blacklist”

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

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FILE - Taliban political chief Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, in the first row, second from left, Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

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FILE – U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

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FILE – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

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The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

“There are indications that they will be willing to sit with the government in a multi-party arrangement,” he said. (VOA)