Pakistan agrees to visa-free, year-long access to Kartarpur Sahib

Wagha: Delegates from India and Pakistan during a meeting to discuss the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor and related technical issues in Wagha, Pakistan on July 14, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

Amritsar (IANS) Pakistan on Sunday agreed in principle to allow visa-free, year-long travel to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara for Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders.

Throughout the year, 5000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara per day. The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot, Home Ministry's Joint Secretary (internal security) S.C.L. Das told reporters at Attari near here.

Pakistan agreed to maintain a channel of communication towards the finalisation of the agreement on the modalities of the cross-border Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, assuring that "no anti-India activity would be allowed".

Das led the Indian delegation for the second bilateral meeting at Wagha in Pakistan for finalising the modalities for the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, a gateway for pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.

The Indian delegation comprised representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Government of Punjab and the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI),

The Kartarpur Sahib corridor links India's Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district with Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan's Punjab province.

The corridor is set to be completed by October 31 and could strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries.

During the talks, Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan, told reporters at Wagha after the meeting that "an agreement between Pakistan and India has been arrived at over the above modalities. One more meeting is likely to happen."

India raised the demand to allow 10,000 additional pilgrims to visit the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara on special occasions.

The Indian delegation also sought consular presence in Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara to be able to provide assistance to the pilgrims, if required.

"The Pakistan side assured our delegation that no anti-India activity would be allowed," Das said.

India also raised its concerns over the security aspect.

India urged Pakistan to prevent Khalistan supporters from misusing this historic initiative. "Concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims was shared," a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said.

A dossier was handed over to the Pakistan side to highlight the concerns in this regard, it said.

Das said that Pakistan was also apprised about foreign-based pro-Khalistan group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which was banned by India on July 10 for supporting militancy and secessionism in Punjab.

The three-hour-long discussions highlighted the preparatory work underway on both sides of the border for the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhism. 

The Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara across the Ravi river is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak Dev spent his final days. The place is highly revered by the Sikh community.

India also conveyed its concerns regarding the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak shrine and adjoining areas on the Indian side as a result of earth filled embankment road or a causeway that is proposed to be built by Pakistan.

It was clearly conveyed to Pakistan that the earth filled embankment will create problems for people on the Indian side and should not be built even in the interim. Details of the bridge that India is building on its side were shared, and the Pakistan side was urged to also build a bridge on their side. The Pakistan side agreed, in principle, to build a bridge at the earliest, the MEA statement said.

Pending the construction of a bridge over the old Ravi creek by Pakistan on their territory, India offered to make interim arrangements for making the corridor operational by November 2019.

India claimed that significant progress had been made in building the necessary infrastructure to handle the pilgrims from India and abroad.

The MEA statement said that Indian facilities would handle 15,000 pilgrims a day. The work is expected to be completed by October 31, a week before the celebrations are expected to begin.

Pakistan highlighted the infrastructural constraints on their side and conveyed that they may be able to accommodate many of the Indian proposals in a phased manner, the MEA said.

India also urged Pakistan to allow "Nagar Kirtan" from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and in October-November as part of the celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru.

The MEA said India has made significant progress to build a state-of-the-art infrastructure, including a passenger terminal, on the Indian side that can handle over 1,5000 pilgrims per day. It is targeted to be completed by October 31. 

The work on the four-lane highway to the crossing point at the international boundary is progressing satisfactorily and is on schedule, the MEA said.

The construction of the 4.2 km long corridor will be over by end of September, well before the anniversary celebrations in India and Pakistan.

A large portion of the corridor falls in Pakistan's territory.

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