Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

This file photo shows the Sikh religious site Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur near the Indian border on Sept. 16, 2019. (AFP/File)
Updated 23 October 2019

Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

  • Border crossing will give Indian Sikhs visa-free access to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. 

The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.

Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C. L. Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.

The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir. 

Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.

Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.

“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee,” said the ministry. “Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”

The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.

New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.

“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,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur. 

The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.

Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”