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India tries to blunt Pakistan's initiative, sends own invite

  
  
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  (Insider Bureau)-Wary of Pakistan's invitation to negotiations over the agreement on the planned Kartarpur Corridor, India on Tuesday asked Pakistani officials to visit New Delhi for talks on the issue and suggested Feb 26 and March 7 as the two possible dates for the meeting. "India has also proposed two set of dates, 26 February and 7 March 2019, for the visit of Pakistan delegation to New Delhi to discuss and finalise the modalities so that the Indian pilgrims can visit the holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor at the earliest," the Indian external affairs ministry said in a statement issued in New Delhi. The statement was issued in response to the draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor shared by Pakistan with India on Monday and the accompanying invitation to initiation of negotiations for its finalisation. By giving a counter-invitation to Pakistan instead of accepting its invitation for negotiations, India seemed to be avoiding the tough choice between rejecting the proposal and accepting Islamabad's call for talks. Pakistan had asked the Indian government to "urgently send a delegation to Islamabad" for negotiating the agreement. India has during PM Narendra Modi's tenure avoided resumption of dialogue with Pakistan on the pretext that its terrorism concerns are not being addressed. The Modi government has been particularly suspicious of Pakistani move to offer opening of Kartarpur Corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, in November this year even though it accepted it out of its domestic political compulsions. The Indian government had sent two cabinet members - Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh - to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony of the project in November. Later, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj claimed that the two ministers went to the Gurudwara 'to offer prayers' and had not been trapped by Pakistani 'googlies'. Her comments were in response to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's remarks that Prime Minister Imran had "bowled a googly at India by opening the Kartarpur border corridor." Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal, who is also Pakistan's focal person for negotiations on the Kartarpur Corridor agreement, talking to Dawn on the Indian invite said that it's clear to everyone that Islamabad's invitation came before Delhi invited it. Once the corridor is operational, Sikh pilgrims from India would enjoy visa-free access to the shrine. Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019
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