Fri, 19 Jul 2019

Pakistani and Indian officials say they have held 'cordial' discussions on the opening of a visa-free border crossing for Sikh pilgrims from India travelling to visit one of their holiest shrines located in Pakistan.

The March 14 meeting came amid easing of tensions after a deadly suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir last month triggered a dangerous escalation between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

The two sides held 'detailed and constructive discussions,' a joint statement said after the officials met at Attari on the Indian side of the border to discuss details of the planned crossing.

Pakistan and India 'agreed to work toward expeditiously operationalizing' the crossing, known as the Kartarpur corridor, the statement added.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, who headed the Pakistani delegation, told journalists that the opening the border crossing was 'aimed at turning animosity into friendship.'

India and Pakistan have a history of bitter relations since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

The two nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, where the two sides still regularly exchange fire.

In a rare instance of cooperation, the two neighbors agreed last year to open a new crossing point between their two regions called Punjab.

The planning crossing in intended to make it quicker and easier for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit a shrine to Guru Nanak, the 15th-century founder of Sikhism.

Instead of visas, Pakistan and India plan to give special permits to devotees to access the site, which is located some 4 kilometers from the Indian border.

The corridor is planned to be opened later this year to mark the 550th anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak's birth.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on the Pakistani side of the border in November.

Pakistan used to be home to a large Sikh community, but most of its members went to India during the 1947 partition, with only a few thousand remaining in Pakistan.

Thousands of Sikhs visit Guru Nanak's shrine in Pakistan every year.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Dawn RFE/RL

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