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India, Pakistan officials meet to discuss opening border for Sikh pilgrims

An Indian Sikh devotee at the Sikh shrine, the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartapur [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 14 March, 2019

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India and Pakistan are meeting to discuss a potential border opening that would give Sikh pilgrims easier access to a holy shrine inside Pakistan.

Officials from India and Pakistan met Thursday amid easing tensions to discuss opening a visa-free border crossing to allow pilgrims to easily visit a Sikh shrine just inside Pakistan.

India's external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said the talks started after a Pakistani delegation, led by foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, crossed over to the Indian side.

Instead of visas, the two countries plan to give special permits to devotees to access the shrine, the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Narowal border district, built after the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, died.

The shrine is visible from the Indian side of the border. Sikhs often gather on bluffs to view the site from the Indian side.

It's unclear how long the construction of a border corridor would take or when the crossing will actually open.

This is the latest in signs that tensions are easing between the two rivals. The two countries announced recently their diplomats would return to New Delhi and Islamabad, after they were recalled due to flared tensions.

In-depth: Women hit worst by Kashmir's continuing conflict

A 14 February suicide attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary soldiers in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir killed 40 soldiers. India blamed the attack on a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and launched a retaliatory air raid inside Pakistan.

Islamabad responded by shooting down two Indian warplanes and capturing a pilot, who was later returned to India as a peace gesture. India said it lost only one aircraft.

Since then, the two sides have exercised restraint amid calls from the international community to avoid war.

Pakistan says it has arrested 44 people, including the brother of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar who was apparently named in a dossier given to Islamabad by New Delhi.

In a piece for The New Arab entitled "War averted. What now for Kashmir?" Lawrence Pintak writes: "The world cannot afford to go back to business-as-usual, ignoring the Kashmir issue that sparked this confrontation and three previous conflicts".

Kashmir is the site of a decades-long conflict between India and Pakistan in which both nations claim the region but control only parts. Guerilla groups have fought against Indian rule in the Indian administered Kashmir for the past thirty years.

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