–Corridor to provide visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur
–Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Indian PM Manmohan Singh to attend inaugural ceremony on Nov 9
KARTARPUR: Pakistan and India signed the agreement on Kartarpur Corridor on Thursday, paving the way for its inauguration next month ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev.
The historic corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Indian Punjab with Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, just about four km from the Zero Line. It is the place where, according to the Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life.
Dr Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia and SAARC) at the Foreign Office, and Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Joint Secretary SCL Das signed the agreement at the Pakistan-India border in Narowal.
The historic moment when India and Pakistan signed the agreement on Kartarpur Corridor pic.twitter.com/M24VUBpNt1
— Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs (@PIBHomeAffairs) October 24, 2019
After the signing ceremony, Dr Faisal said that as per the initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the agreement has been signed while a formal inauguration of the project will be held on November 9. The ceremony will be attended by Prime Minister Imran and will feature former Indian premier Manmohan Singh as the chief guest.
“[They] were very very difficult and tough negotiations,” he said while talking about the several rounds of dialogues between the two sides over the project.
“Under the agreement, the corridor will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk,” he said, adding that the pilgrims [through the corridor] would arrive in the day and leave by evening.
The FO spokesperson said that the project will facilitate 5,000 pilgrims a day.
“It is the biggest gurdwara in the world. This is how we treat minorities in the country, this is our approach towards minorities. It is in line with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” he said.
He said that the first group of pilgrims will come on November 9. Sharing further details of the agreement, he said the pilgrims who come through the corridor will not require a visa. They will have to carry their passports which will be scanned but not stamped, he said.
Dr Faisal said that under the agreement, the Indian authorities will provide a list of pilgrims 10 days ahead of their visit.
While responding to a question, he said that local Sikh pilgrims will also be allowed to visit the sacred place and a pass will be issued to them.
“There is no change in the country’s position on India-occupied Kashmir,” he said while responding to another question.
The agreement was finalised after three rounds of negotiations. The negotiations were protracted because of deep differences on various provisions of the agreement, the Pulwama stand-off, Indian reservations over the composition of the committee set up to look after the affairs of the corridor, and elections in India.
The last sticking point was the $20 service fee that Pakistan would charge from every pilgrim for a single trip. However, India reluctantly agreed to it. Pakistan is currently working out the mechanism for charging the $20 fee from the pilgrims.
Following the inauguration of the corridor, a visa free link between Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur and Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Punjab will open for the pilgrims.
The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two arch-rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Pulwama district of Indian-occupied Kashmir. At present, the two neighbors are at odds with each other with regard to held Kashmir whose semi-autonomous status was withdrawn through a rushed presidential decree on Aug 5.