India and Pakistan on Thursday signed a landmark agreement to operationalise the historic Kartarpur Corridor to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties.
The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, just about four kilometres from the International Border, located at Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The agreement signing ceremony took place at the Kartarpur Zero Point at the International Border, removing a key legal hurdle for the opening of the corridor, a long-pending demand of the Sikh community.
SCL Das, Joint Secretary in the Union Home Ministry signed the pact on India’s behalf while Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Mohammad Faisal signed the agreement from Pakistan’s side.
Speaking to the media after the signing of the agreement, Faisal said Prime Minister Imran Khan had fulfilled his promise and completed the corridor in a year.
“It was never simple to reach an agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor. Rather these were very difficult and tough negotiations (with India) keeping in view our hostile relations with it,” Faisal said.
He said that Pakistan has stuck to the points it proposed at the start of the talks on the corridor.
“Under the agreement, the corridor will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. A total of 5,000 or so Indian Sikhs will arrive every day and leave the same day.
“They (pilgrims) will have to only bring their passport for their identity and it will not be stamped. India will share the list of those visiting the Gurdwara (Darbar Sahib Kartatpur) 10 days before their travel plan,” he said.
Each visitor would be required to pay USD 20 as a fee, though India has requested Pakistan not to charge the Indian pilgrims.
Talking about the sticking point of USD 20 service fee, Faisal said: “Under the agreement, Pakistan will charge a very nominal USD 20 from every Indian Sikh pilgrim for a single trip.”
“On the face of huge expenses this amount is very nominal,” he said, adding this gurdwara is the biggest in the world.
“Come and see this is a miraculous thing,” he said and clarified those Indian Sikhs crossing over here (to Pakistan) from this corridor will not be allowed to visit other gurdwaras of the Punjab province.
For visiting other gurdwaras or parts of the country they will have to take a visa, he said.
To a question about chances of terrorism at the gurdwara due to so many people visiting it every day, Faisal said: “Stringent security measures have been taken in and around the gurdwara.”
Meanwhile, online registration of devotees began soon after the signing of the agreement.
The agreement will allow access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Norowal district of Pakistan where the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life.
The agreement was finalised after three rounds of negotiations.
Pakistan Prime Minister Khan would formally inaugurate the corridor on November 9, ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on November 12.
The foundation stone for the Kartarpur Corridor on the Indian side was laid in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu last November.
Two days later, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan aid the foundation stone of the corridor in Narowal.
Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.
The four-lane highway connecting the Zero Point of the Kartarpur Corridor up to National Highway-354 on the Indian side is being constructed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
The two countries signed the agreement despite bilateral relationship witnessing a chill following India revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August following which Islamabad downgraded ties with New Delhi.