NEW DELHI – A month after a suicide attack killed 42 security personnel in India-administered Kashmir and led to one of the worst military escalation between India and Pakistan in decades, authorities from the two countries met on Thursday to discuss an agreement to open a border corridor.
This is the first official meeting between authorities of the two countries after month-long tensions, including a series of military escalations and ceasefire violations on the border, and was held in a “cordial environment,” in the western Indian state of Punjab, according to a joint statement issued by the two sides.
In the meeting, which lasted for many hours, the two countries discussed a project to develop a corridor that would connect two important temples of pilgrimage for the Sikh religion situated on each side.
“Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalizing the Kartarpur Sahib (a city in Pakistan adjacent to the Indian border) Corridor,” the statement said.
The two delegations were headed by SCL Das, Joint Secretary in Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, and Mohammad Faisal, South Asia Director in the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, respectively.
The discussions over the corridor are set to continue in a meeting on April 2, which will be preceded by a meeting of technical experts on Tuesday at the proposed location of the project to finalize preparations, according to the statement.
The Kartarpur corridor will allow the Indian Sikh community visa-free access to one of the most important sites of pilgrimage for the religion situated in Pakistani territory.
The meeting comes just a month after the Pakistan-based insurgent group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed the Feb. 14 attack in India-administered Kashmir, which had killed 42 security personnel, and was one of the deadliest attacks against Indian security forces in the last three decades.
The attack led to Indian airstrikes on an alleged JeM camp in Pakistan’s territory and subsequent retaliation by Pakistan, which resulted in an air combat between the two sides in which warplanes were shot down and an Indian pilot was captured by Pakistan.
As a first step to reduce tensions between the two nuclear powers, Islamabad freed the Indian pilot and announced the arrests of many members of banned militant groups, including two family members of JeM chief Masood Azhar.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting cross-border terrorism and for sheltering terrorist groups on its territory, who plan attacks on Indian targets.
India also accuses Pakistan of sponsoring militancy in Kashmir, which is one of the most militarized regions in the world.
The two countries claim the region – divided into Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir – in its entirety and have fought two major wars and several minors skirmishes over it.