India, Pakistan said to sign Kartarpur agreement on Wednesday

1 / 2
In this picture taken on September 16, 2019 a Pakistani policeman walk past stacks of marble on the construction site at the Sikh religious site Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur near the Indian border. (AFP)
2 / 2
Laborers work at the sites of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which will be open this year for Indian Sikh pilgrims, in Kartarpur, Pakistan, Sept. 16, 2019. (REUTERS/File)
Updated 22 October 2019

India, Pakistan said to sign Kartarpur agreement on Wednesday

  • The project is a rare recent example of diplomatic cooperation between the two South Asian rivals
  • New Delhi says “disappointed” by Pakistan’s decision of “levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit”

LAHORE: India has decided to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23, said an official statement issued by New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry on Monday, even though it expressed its disappointment over Pakistan’s decision to levy $20 service fee per pilgrims and asked Islamabad to reconsider it.

“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalization of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed [to Pakistan] that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday,” the statement said.

Pakistan is all set to open the world’s largest Sikh temple to pilgrims and the public on Nov. 9, as construction work on the Kartarpur corridor enters its final stages, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on his official Facebook page on Sunday.

The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan will be inaugurated just ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals, and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak on Nov. 12.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” the Prime Minister said on Facebook.

He added: “World’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

However, India’s official statement on Monday said it was “a matter of disappointment” that Pakistan continued “to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit.”

The Kartarpur project is a rare recent example of diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February this year. In August, relations were further inflamed when India flooded its portion of the disputed Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent, with Pakistan recalling its envoy from India and banning bilateral trade.

But for the Sikh minority population in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere, the diplomatic overture from Pakistan will come as a relief. The community has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just 4 km over the border in Pakistan, and which otherwise requires a lengthy visa and travel process.

Instead of visas, Sikh and other pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the shrine, with online registration from the Indian interior ministry live on Sunday.

Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has invited the leaders of all Indian political parties to join him to cross the border to the Gurdwara for the opening ceremony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor but it is yet unclear whether he will cross into Pakistan following the event.

Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, a bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office, with up to 5,000 Indians to be allowed access daily.


Fire on moving train kills 74 passengers in central Pakistan

Updated 31 October 2019

Fire on moving train kills 74 passengers in central Pakistan

  • PM Khan ordered an urgent investigation into the incident
  • Pakistan’s military said troops were also participating in the rescue operation

MULTAN, Pakistan: A massive fire caused by a cooking gas stove erupted Thursday on a train traveling in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, killing at least 74 passengers, officials said.
Flames roared through the train cars as the train approached the town of Liaquatpur in Punjab, they said, the latest tragedy to hit Pakistan’s dilapidated, poorly maintained and mismanaged rail system.
Survivors recounted horrific scenes of fellow passengers screaming as they jumped through the windows and off the train, flames billowing from the carriages.
“We could hear people crying and screaming for help,” said Chaudhry Shujaat who had boarded the train just a few hours earlier with his wife and two children. “I thought we would die. The next car was on fire. We felt so helpless.”

Men look at a burning train after a gas canister passengers were using to cook breakfast exploded, near the town of Rahim Yar Khan in the south of Punjab province, Pakistan October 31, 2019, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. (REUTERS)

Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said the fire broke out when a gas stove exploded as breakfast was being prepared on board. He added that the death toll had risen steadily since the early morning.
Kaleem Ullah, an official with the district emergency services, says of the 43 people injured, 11 were still in critical condition.
Several of the injured had jumped off the train — many to their deaths — after the fire broke out and before it eventually screeched to a halt, said Ahmed.

Firefighters work to cool down the burnt-out train carriages after a passenger train caught on fire near Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province on October 31, 2019. (AFP)

Survivors said it took the train nearly 20 minutes to come to a halt after the fire broke out and passengers began screaming for help. Some pulled at emergency cords that weave through the train to notify the conductor.
Ghulam Abbas, a passenger who had gotten on the train in the town of Nawabshah in neighboring Sindh province with his wife and two children, recounted watching panicked passengers jumping off.
“We learned afterward that most of them had died,” he said.
His wife, Sulai Khan Bibi, said she was horrified about what would happen to their two small children. “We were so close to death, but Allah saved us,” she said, clutching the children.
In Pakistan, poor passengers often bring their own small gas stoves on the trains to cook their meals, despite rules to the contrary, according to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Safety regulations are often ignored in the overcrowded trains.
Ahmed said in Thursday’s tragedy, it was cooking oil carried on the train by a group of Islamic missionaries known as Tableeqi-e-Jamaat that had caught fire after the initial cooking stove exploded, contributing to the extent of the blaze and its speedy progress.
Railway official Shabir Ahmed said bodies of passengers were scattered over a 2 kilometer (mile) -wide area around the site.
People from nearby villages rushed to the train, carrying buckets of water and shovels to help douse the flames. “But it was impossible,” said Ahmed.
Through the morning hours, rescue workers and inspectors sifted through the charred wreckage, looking for survivors and aiding the injured. Local Pakistani TV footage from the scene showed a huge blaze raging as firefighters struggled to get it under control.

Rescue workers gather beside the burnt-out train carriages after the passenger train caught on fire near Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province on October 31, 2019. At least 65 people were killed and dozens wounded after a passenger train erupted in flames in central Pakistan on October 31, a provincial minister said. (AFP)

Officials said they were still trying to identify the victims and that the lists of fatalities and those injured were not ready yet. Another train was dispatched to bring the survivors to the city of Rawalpindi, they said.
Yasmin Rashid, a provincial minister in Punjab, told reporters that the medical staff was providing the best possible treatment for the injured at a hospital in Liaquatpur. Those critically injured were taken by ambulances to the city of Multan, the largest city nearest to the site of the accident.
The train was on its way from the southern port city of Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, to the garrison city of Rawalpindi when the blaze erupted, said Ahmed, the deputy commissioner.
Pakistan’s military said troops were also participating in the rescue operation. President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan issued statements expressing their sorrow over the tragedy.

Firefighters work to cool down the burnt-out train carriages after a passenger train caught on fire near Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province on October 31, 2019. (AFP)

Khan took to Twitter to offer his condolences to the families of those killed and say he was praying for the speedy recovery of the injured. He also ordered an urgent investigation into the incident.
Train accidents in Pakistan are often the result of poor railway infrastructure and official negligence. Media reports on Thursday suggest that railways officials did not notice when passengers boarded the train, carrying individual gas stoves.
In July, a passenger train rammed into a pared freight train at the Walhar Railway Station in the district of Rahim Yar Khan, killing at least 20 people and injuring 74.
A month earlier, a passenger train traveling to the eastern city of Lahore from the port city of Karachi collided with a freight train in the southern city of Hyderabad, killing three people.

Related