Kartarpur corridor: Divergent voices in Pak, India to stick to agreement

at 10:18 pm

Islamabad/New Delhi: Ahead of the opening of Kartarpur corridor, contradictory voices emerged from Pakistan over whether the Indian pilgrims would require to carry their passports, but India asserted that it would go by the agreement reached between the two sides.

India and Pakistan on October 24 signed an agreement to operationalise the corridor to Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, located about 4.5 km from the border in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, meeting a longstanding demand of Sikhs.

The corridor, that will be operational throughout the year, will be opened on November 9 to coincide with the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Faisal today said the Indian pilgrims are exempted from having to carry passports to visit the Kartarpur shrine.

He said the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, according to The News.

Faisal also said that Pakistan was doing away with the requirement of announcing the list of pilgrims 10 days in advance, and that it was waiving the $20 service fee from pilgrims on November 9 and 10.

Earlier, Pakistan military spokesman Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said the Indian pilgrims would require a passport to visit Kartarpur Gurdwara. He said it was necessary because of security reasons.

The DG ISPR’s comment came a week after Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the Indian  pilgrims visiting Kartarpur “won’t need a passport — just a valid ID”.

In view of these divergent comments, spokesperson of India’s External Affairs Ministry Raveesh Kumar said today at a media briefing in New Delhi that “a sense of confusion continues” in Pakistan.

Kumar said the Indian government would go by the bilateral MoU inked between the two sides on the Kartarpur corridor.

“As of today, there is a bilateral document which has been signed between the two sides, which very clearly specifies the documents needed to undertake the visit,” he said.

He asserted that the MoU could not be changed unilaterally.

According to the MoU, the travel will be visa free and the pilgrims will have a choice to visit individually or in groups, and also to travel on foot.

Under the agreement, Indian government will inform Pakistan authorities about the list of the pilgrims 10 days in advance and pilgrims will be notified through message of mail four days ahead of the travel.

The corridor will be open from dawn to dusk and the pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return on the same day.

The corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, to be informed in advance. The Pakistan side has assured India to make sufficient provision for ‘Langar’ and distribution of ‘Prasad’.

Although the pilgrimage was supposed to be free, Pakistan has decided to levy $20 as service charge per pilgrim per visit, causing unhappiness in India.

India has consistently urged Pakistan to not levy any fee on the pilgrims. It was stressed time and again, including in the previous three Joint Secretary level meetings and at the diplomatic level, that this is not in consonance with the religious and spiritual sentiments of Indian pilgrims.

India has shared its deep disappointment with Pakistan for its refusal to waive the fee.

While the agreement has been signed, the Indian government continues to urge the Pakistan government to reconsider its insistence on levying the fee.

India continues to pursue the issue of all-weather connectivity through the corridor.

In this context, Indian government has built the bridge on Indian side and a temporary service road as an interim arrangement.

For registration of pilgrims, online portal — prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in — has gone live. The pilgrims may have to necessarily register themselves online on this portal and exercise their choice to travel on any day.

Pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration three to four days in advance of the date of travel. An Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) will also be generated and the pilgrims need to carry the ETA along with their passport when they arrive at the Passenger Terminal Building.