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Pakistan-India signed historic Kartarpur Corridor agreement

25 October, 2019

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KARTARPUR: Pakistan and India on Thursday signed the historic Kartarpur Corridor agreement, allowing Sikh pilgrims visa-free access to the religion’s holy site in Punjab’s Narowal district.

Director General South Asia and SAARC Dr Mohammad Faisal signed the agreement at the Kartarpur Zero Line. The corridor will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 9. He added that the prime minister had fulfilled his promise.

The Indian side was represented by its Joint Secretary for Home Affairs SCL Das. Talking to the media after the signing ceremony, Faisal elaborated that pilgrims would be facilitated seven days a week from dawn till dusk.

“Under the agreement, India will provide a list of pilgrims ten days before their visits so that they could be properly received,” he said, adding that the first group would arrive at the pilgrimage site using the corridor on November 9. The FO official confirmed that Islamabad would facilitate 5,000 pilgrims every day and “and if there is more capacity we will accommodate them too”.

“Roads and a reception centre have been built in the area. A huge gurdwara has been built, which is being described as the biggest in the world,” he said. “It is the biggest gurdwara in the world. This is how we treat minorities in the country. This is our approach towards minorities. It is in line with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” he added.

Sharing further details of the agreement, he said the pilgrims who come through the corridor will not require a visa. They would have to carry their passports, which would be scanned but not stamped, while $20 fee would be charged from them, he said.

The FO official also lauded his team’s efforts, saying negotiating with India were not easy because of the history the two countries shared. “[They] were very very difficult and tough negotiations,” he said while talking about the several rounds of dialogues between the two sides over the project.

While responding to a question, he said that local Sikh pilgrims would also be allowed to visit the sacred place and a pass would be issued to them.

“There is no change in the country’s position on India-occupied Kashmir,” he said while responding to another question.

The agreement was finalised after three rounds of negotiations. The negotiations were protracted because of deep differences on various provisions of the agreement, the Pulwama stand-off, Indian reservations over the composition of the committee set up to look after the affairs of the corridor, and elections in India.

The last sticking point was the $20 service fee that Pakistan would charge from every pilgrim for a single trip. However, India reluctantly agreed to it.

Following the inauguration of the corridor, a visa-free link between Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur and Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Indian Punjab would open for the pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that signing of Kartarpur Corridor agreement despite challenges was manifestation of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s strong determination.

In a statement on Thursday, he said it was a historic day as the prime minister has fulfilled his promise made with the Sikh community. He said the agreement reflected Pakistan’s foreign policy that highlights Islamic teachings with regard to respect for other religions.

He said the Sikh pilgrims residing in foreign countries could avail this facility on Indian-origin card. He said that as per the promise, the prime minister would perform the inauguration of the corridor on the 9th of the next month.

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