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  • Eight-four Indian sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for ‘Jor Mela,’ a three-day memorial in honor of two elders who were bricked to death.

    Eight-four Indian sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for ‘Jor Mela,’ a three-day memorial in honor of two elders who were bricked to death. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 March 2019

The religious minority have long-sought safe passage across the border to the holy site.

India and Pakistan agreed Thursday to go forward with a new border crossing and route for Sikh pilgrims to visit a holy temple in Pakistan — a rare vision of cooperation after tensions flared over a decades-long Kashmir dispute.

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The meeting was the first between the nuclear-armed foes since a dog fight between their warplanes over the Himalayan region last month led to the downing of an Indian aircraft and the capture of its pilot, who has since been returned home.

"Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions," the two countries said in a joint statement, after their officials met Thursday at the Wagah checkpoint on their border to work out details of the crossing and the route.

The talks were cordial and another meeting of technical experts is planned for next week, they said, adding that both sides had agreed to work toward soon making the route operational.

The Sikh minority community in India's northern state of Punjab and elsewhere has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just over the border in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The Kartarpur Corridor border crossing was first proposed in 1999 by the prime ministers of Pakistan and India, Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy.

Many Sikhs see Pakistan as the place where their religion began: its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in a small village near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

But to get there, travelers must first secure hard-to-get visas, travel to Lahore or some other major Pakistani city and then drive to the village 2 1/2 miles from the Indian border.

This week's talks follow up on an agreement the two neighbors struck last year to open a new route, the Kartarpur corridor, giving the pilgrims direct and visa-free access to the holy site that will be fenced off.

The arch rivals have said they shot down each other's fighter jets late last month, after tension escalated following a claim of responsibility by a Pakistan-based militant group for the deadliest attack in Kashmir's 30-year-long insurgency that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police.

Kashmir is a strategic region with glaciers and freshwater sources that provide water and electricity to around a billion people in India, while Pakistan relies heavily on its glacial waters for its agricultural sector.

“With a growing population and increased need for electricity, India has looked to the region to develop more hydro facilities,” Shawn Snow wrote for The Diplomat. “Pakistan fears that India may divert water necessary for irrigation, and use water as a weapon against Pakistan.”

Insurgency rose in Kashmir in 1987 after an election held in the India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, strengthened the standing of the pro-independence insurgency. The election by the Indian government, said to have been rigged, led to a series of protests which resulted in the Indian army's deployment to Kashmir in 1989.

Since the 1990s, Indian troops have greatly increased military attacks on the insurgencies.

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