India and Pakistan on Thursday signed a pact to open a land corridor between the two countries to allow Indian pilgrims to cross over and visit a revered Sikh shrine, capping months of negotiations between the two uneasy neighbors.
The Kartarpur corridor connects Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in the Gurdaspur district of India’s Punjab province and facilitates visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to cross over to Pakistan.
The pact to open the Kartarpur corridor was signed by SCL Das, joint secretary (Internal Security) in the Indian home ministry and Mohammad Faisal, director general (South Asia) in the Pakistan Foreign Office. The ceremony took place at the “zero lines” on the border – a sign that indicated that both sides wanted to keep the signing of the pact low key without a formal ceremony.
According to a home ministry statement, the key highlights of the agreement include:
● Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor
● Travel will be visa-free
● Pilgrims need to carry only a valid passport and an electronic travel authorization they receive if their registration is deemed successful
● Persons of Indian Origin need to carry OCI card along with the passport of their country
● The corridor is open from dawn to dusk. Pilgrims traveling in the morning will have to return on the same day
● The corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, to be informed in advance
● Pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and also to travel on foot
● India will send the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days ahead of the travel date. Confirmation will be sent to pilgrims 4 days before the date of travel
● The Pakistan side has assured India to make sufficient provision for ‘Langar’ and distribution of ‘Prasad’
Das later told reporters that India hopes Pakistan will drop its insistence on levying $ 20 as a service charge per pilgrim per visit. “This does not align with the religious and spiritual sentiments of Indian pilgrims. India has shared its deep disappointment with Pakistan for its refusal to waive the fee,” Das said. “However, in the interest of the pilgrims and timely operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor before the 550th Prakash Purb, India has agreed to sign the Agreement,” Das said. “While the Agreement has been signed, the Government of India continues to urge this issue with the Government of Pakistan to reconsider its insistence on levying the fee. We hope Pakistan will reconsider and reverse this decision. We hope that some good sense will prevail,” Das said.
However, in the interest of the pilgrims and timely operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor before the 550th Prakash Pub, India has agreed to sign the Agreement today. While the Agreement has been signed, the Government of India continues to urge this issue with the Government of Pakistan to reconsider its insistence on levying the fee. India remains ready to amend the Agreement accordingly.
Another issue that Das touched on was on all-weather connectivity — that would allow pilgrims to visit even during the monsoon season. He said India hoped that Pakistan would fulfill its promise to construct a bridge “at the earliest.” India on its part would ensure all the necessary infrastructure required for the pilgrimage on its side would be completed by 9 November, he said.
He also said that a “robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims.”
For registration of pilgrims, an online portal had become operational from Thursday, Das said. The pilgrims can opt for dates of travel after registering themselves. “Pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration 3-4 days in advance of the date of travel. An Electronic Travel Authorization will also be generated. The pilgrims need to carry Electronic Travel Authorization, along with their passport, when they arrive at the Passenger Terminal Building” on the Indian side, he said.
Source: Live Mint