India, Pak agree on visa-free travel by Indian pilgrims to Kartarpur gurdwara

Attari/New Delhi/Lahore: India and Pakistan on Wednesday agreed on visa-free travel by Indian pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan using the Kartarpur corridor, officials said.

However, during the meeting between the two sides at Attari in Punjab’s Amritsar district, Pakistan insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit the gurdwara, which was not agreeable to the Indian side.

Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of Indian consular or protocol officials on the gurdwara premises. Pakistan side was urged to reconsider its position, officials said.

S C L Das, Joint Secretary with the Ministry of Home Affairs, said the meeting fell short of finalising the draft agreement on the planned corridor.

Pakistan delegation leader Mohammad Faisal later said, Two or three points of the draft agreement are left to be agreed upon as there has been consensus on the remaining ones.

Officials said the two sides agreed on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan without any restrictions.

Persons of Indian origin holding OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card too can visit the gurdwara using the Kartarpur corridor, official sources said.

It was also decided that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine every day and that additional pilgrims will be allowed on special occasions, subject to the expansion of facilities by the Pakistan side, they said.

Entry will be on the basis of cards given out to the pilgrim, a Pakistani official said.

According to the agreement, over 5,000 Sikh yatris are set to visit Kartarpur daily. However, if the number of visitors exceeds this, we will welcome all of them, Faisal, who is also the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson, told reporters in Lahore.

In November 2018, India and Pakistan had agreed to set up the border crossing linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, the final resting place of Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak, to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.

Kartarpur is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the Ravi river, about four kilometres from Dera Baba Nanak.

At the meeting, it was also decided that the corridor will be operational throughout the year and seven days a week and that pilgrims will have a choice to visit it as individuals or in groups.

Both sides agreed to build a bridge at Budhi Ravi channel. Pending the construction of the bridge on the Pakistan side, both sides agreed on the crossing- point coordinates of the temporary service road, sources said.

Faisal said 90 per cent work on the corridor has been completed on the Pakistani side and the country will open it for the visitors next month.

India is responsible for its side. However, we have completed all the preparations and the corridor will be opened on the occasion of the 550 birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, he said, adding that India will have to show a little flexibility .

Before leaving for talks with about 20 other officials, he said, Pakistan has decided to open the corridor on the wish of the Sikh community. Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken the initiative for the minority community of India.

This was the second meeting on the Kartarpur corridor after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, triggering fresh tension between the two neighbours.

Technical experts from the two countries met on August 30.

The two sides plan to open the corridor by November when the year-long celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev begin.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone for the corridor in Gurdaspur district.

Two days later, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan led a similar event in Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.