Amidst severely-strained bilateral ties, India and Pakistan on Thursday signed an agreement on modalities for implementing a cross-border pilgrimage land corridor capping weeks of hard negotiations between the two South Asian rivals.
The agreement was inked for operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor at Zero Point of the international boundary at Dera Baba Nanak with representatives from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Home and Defence along with the representatives from government of Indian state of Punjab present during the signing ceremony.
The corridor will enable pilgrims to pay obeisance at the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara just four km inside Pakistan’s Punjab province which houses the temple where Sikh religion founder Guru Nanak spent the final 18 years of his life.
Today’s agreement was inked even as Pakistan refused to accept India’s insistence of waiving a 20 US Dollar service charge per pilgrim per visit to the Kartarpur gurudwara.
The issue of service has been a sticking point between the two sides India has consistently urged Pakistan to not levy any fee on the pilgrims.
India stressed time and again, including in the previous three Joint Secretary-level meetings and at the diplomatic level, imposing the service charge was not in consonance with the religious and spiritual sentiments of Indian pilgrims.
“India has shared its deep disappointment with Pakistan for its refusal to waive the fee,” the Indian Home Ministry said adding “however, in the interest of the pilgrims and timely operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak India agreed to sign the agreement today.
The Ministry said India would, however, continue to urge Pakistan to reconsider its insistence on levying the service charge and New Delhi remains ready to amend the agreement accordingly.
The signing of today’s agreement came nearly a year after the Indian cabinet passed a resolution on November 22 last year to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev throughout the country.
With the signing of this Agreement, a formal framework has been laid down for operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
Under the agreement, Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor to go to Pakistan without visa, pilgrims will need to carry only a valid passport, the corridor will be open from dawn to dusk and pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return the same day, the corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days to be informed in advance;
As per the agreement, pilgrims will have a choice to visit the shrine as individuals or in groups and also to travel on foot and India will send the list of pilgrims to Pakistan ten days ahead of travel date.
India has built the bridge on Indian side of the corridor and a temporary service road as an interim arrangement.
All the required infrastructure--the highway and the passenger terminal building--are nearing completion for timely inauguration of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
A robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims.