Kartarpur talks: Pakistan removes Khalistani radical Gopal Singh Chawala from top Sikh body under pressure from India

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Jul 13, 2019, 08.00 AM(IST) Written By: Anas Mallick , Sidhant Sibal

File photo: Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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India had categorically expressed its displeasure over the appointment of Chawla, who is known to be the right-hand man of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed.

Just one day ahead of the second round of India-Pakistan official talks to decide on the modalities of Kartarpur corridor, Islamabad has removed Khalistani radical  Gopal Singh Chawla from the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandak Committee (PSGPC). 

India had raised its concern over the presence of Gopal Singh Chawla, a known Khalistani and a close aide of 26/11 mastermind and postponed the second round of Kartarpur talks which were earlier scheduled for April 2.The notification regarding PSGPC members was issued by Islamabad late Friday night.

PSGPC oversees all the gurudwaras in Pakistan including the Kartarpur Gurudwara.

Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life at the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan, about 120km northeast of Lahore. The shrine is visible from the Indian side, but smooth access to it has been a distant dream for the Sikh community.

Things changed in November 2018, when India and Pakistan agreed to construct a corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims direct passage to the shrine.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone for the project on the Pakistani side. The event was attended by two Indian ministers as well.

But building the corridor between India and Pakistan is easier said than done.

The challenge was to work out the modalities. The two sides met for the first time on March 14 in Attari, on the Indian side. The meeting took place after heightened tensions post the Pulwama terror attack.

The corridor would provide easy access and would be visa-free but India and Pakistan had differences over the way forward for the project.

Among the things, India insists on are a daily entry for at least 5,000 pilgrims, and that number increased to 10,000 on special occasions. India also wants arrangements for women, children and the differently-abled. In other words, India wants smooth, safe and secure passage for all its pilgrims visiting the holy shrine in Pakistan.

"We will honour the sanctity of the negotiations and therefore won't bring the details of the negotiations before the media. We will bring it once its finalised," Pakistan's foreign ministry said when asked what they are doing to address India's concerns.

Meanwhile, India's External Affairs Ministry has said that New Delhi is fully committed to the Kartarpur Sahib corridor project.

"We are fully committed to this project and want this to be completed. As far as infrastructure work is considered, I will emphasise on two important issues. They are ongoing and we hope that this is done in time. There is some discussion about the bridge as well. We will have talks when we will meet on July 14," MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. The statement came after a section of the media reported that India is lagging behind in construction.

India is already building a bridge to provide connectivity for the corridor. New Delhi has confirmed it plans to finish construction on its side by the end of October. It says it is keen that the pilgrimage starts in November.