Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from across the world are ready to witness the historic opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on Saturday (November 9) as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan are set to separately inaugurate the cross-border pathway in their respective countries.
Modi will flag off the first batch of over 500 Indian pilgrims that will travel to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province through the Kartarpur Corridor which is being thrown open days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev on November 12.
Meanwhile, Khan will inaugurate the corridor on the Pakistani side and receive the Indian Sikh pilgrims including former prime minister Manmohan Singh. The landmark corridor is being inaugurated amidst tight security in the backdrop of tension between the two countries over the Kashmir issue.
Prime Minister Modi will also inaugurate the Integrated Check Post (ICP) of the Kartarpur corridor. The facility is located at Dera Baba Nanak, Gurdaspur in Punjab.
India signed an agreement with Pakistan on October 24 on the modalities for operationalisation of the corridor, a long-pending demand of the Sikh community in India. The agreement will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib where Guru Nanak spent last 18 years of his life. Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor and the travel will be visa-free.
A 100-member special ‘Tourism Police Force’ for the security of Indian pilgrims using the Kartarpur corridor has been deployed by Pakistan’s Punjab province. Sikh pilgrims have started coming at the Nankana Sahib from India and other countries in connection with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Speaking to reporters in Lahore on the eve of the historic opening, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “We have completed the Kartarpur corridor project in a record time. We will fulfil our promises with the Sikh community. It is beyond thoughts of people that the construction work on the project would be completed in the shortest period.”
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood said that pilgrims from India would be coming through Wagah border as well.
“Similarly, thousands of pilgrims from across the world, especially from countries with large Sikh community, are coming to Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
However, there have been conflicting messages from Pakistan over the key issue of whether Indian pilgrims will require passport to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib there, and a caution from New Delhi that Islamabad needs to desist from anti-India propaganda marked the run-up to Saturday’s inauguration.
Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said passport would be required to use the corridor while the Pakistan foreign office contradicted it, saying Khan has waived the condition of passport for one year for Indian Sikhs visiting the Gurdwara.
During his weekly media briefing in Islamabad, Pakistan foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said the condition of passports for Indian Sikhs was waived for one year in the wake of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Khan also waived the requirement to convey pilgrim information to the Pakistani government 10 days prior to entry, and he also waived $20 service fee per pilgrim on November 9 and 12, Faisal said, adding Pakistan has “formally conveyed this to India.”
India and Pakistan relations touched a new low after the Indian government on August 5 abrogated the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and its bifurcation into two Union Territories.
(With inputs from agencies)