LAHORE: Pakistan and India signed the agreement on Kartarpur Corridor on Thursday, paving the way for its inauguration ON November 9 ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev.
The signing ceremony of first visa-free corridor between the two neighbours since their independence in 1947 was held at Kartarpur Zero Line to permit the intending Sikh pilgrims visit Baba Guru Nanak’s shrine on his 550th Birth Anniversary in early November.
The special significance is the fact that a bilateral treaty is being signed when bilateral relations are at an all-time low and no high-level meetings between the two sides have been held. While there have been several agreements between the two sides, very few have been signed by them. In 1974, a Bilateral Agreement on Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines was signed.
The last disagreement between the rival states was the $20 service fee that Pakistan wanted to charge from every pilgrim as a service fee for a single trip. India, initially denied it; however, later agreed to it reluctantly.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has been currently working out a mechanism for charging the $20 fee from the pilgrims.
The spokesperson said a mechanism has been evolved for the visits of pilgrims to Gurdawara Darbar Sahib. He said the pilgrims would be permitted to visit the Gurdawara Kartarpur Sahib from morning till evening. He said full details of the Kartarpur agreement would be shared after its signing.
Responding to a question about Pak-India agreement, FO spokesperson stated that they were fully ready to make functional the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on their side. “We will also share clause by clause details after signing of the Agreement with you”, he added.
Replying to a question about participation from India, Dr Faisal said, “We are working on the invitations for the inauguration of Kartarpur sahib Corridor”. Reportedly, construction process and painting of the shrine has been completed and electricity has been supplied to the site from Shakar Garh’s grid station.
Dr Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia and Saarc) at the Foreign Office, and Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Joint Secretary S.C.L. Das signed the agreement at the Pakistan-India border in Narowal.
After the signing ceremony, Foreign Office spokesman 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.
“[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.