India, Pakistan Sign Agreement On Visa-Free Kartarpur Corridor
A view of the shrine of Sikh leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. (Source: PTI)

India, Pakistan Sign Agreement On Visa-Free Kartarpur Corridor

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India and Pakistan signed a historic agreement on the Kartarpur corridor that will allow Indian pilgrims to undertake a visa-free visit to the shrine of the Sikh religion's founder Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan, notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties.

The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, just 4 kilometers from the international border, located at Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province.

Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary SCL Das and Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson and director general (South Asia and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Mohammad Faisal, signed the agreement at the Kartarpur Zero Point at the International Border, fulfilling a long-pending demand of the Sikh community.

The agreement will allow Indian pilgrims access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan where Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life.

The two countries signed the agreement after three rounds of tough negotiations despite bilateral relationship witnessing a chill recent years. The ties touched a new low when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August following which Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy.

Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor and the travel will be visa-free. Pilgrims need to carry only a valid passport while persons of Indian origin need to carry Overseas Citizen of India card along with the passport of their country, according to a statement issued by the Home Ministry in New Delhi.

Online registration of devotees on the portal began soon after the agreement was signed. The pilgrims will have to register themselves online on the portal and exercise their choice to travel on any day. The pilgrims will be allowed to carry a maximum of Rs 11,000 and a 7-kg bag, and will not be allowed to venture beyond the shrine.

Speaking to the media after the signing of the agreement, Faisal said Prime Minister Imran Khan had fulfilled his promise and completed the corridor in a year. "It was never simple to reach an agreement on the Kartarpur corridor. Rather these were very difficult and tough negotiations (with India) keeping in view our hostile relations with it," Faisal said.

He said that Pakistan has stuck to the points it proposed at the start of the talks on the corridor. "Under the agreement, the corridor will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. A total of 5,000 or so Indian Sikhs will arrive every day and leave the same day.

"They (pilgrims) will have to only bring their passport for their identity and it will not be stamped. India will share the list of those visiting the Gurdwara (Darbar Sahib Kartatpur) 10 days before their travel plan, he said. The pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration three to four days in advance of the date of travel.

Each visitor would be required to pay $20 as a fee, though India has requested Pakistan not to charge the Indian pilgrims. Talking about the sticking point of the $20 service fee, Faisal said: "Under the agreement, Pakistan will charge a very nominal $20 from every Indian Sikh pilgrim for a single trip."

"On the face of huge expenses this amount is very nominal, he said, adding this gurdwara is the biggest in the world. "Come and see this is a miraculous thing," he said and clarified those Indian Sikhs visiting Pakistan through this corridor will not be allowed to visit other gurdwaras of the Punjab province.

For visiting other gurdwaras or parts of the country they will have to take a visa, he said. Faisal said stringent security measures have been taken in and around the gurdwara. Prime Minister Khan would formally inaugurate the corridor on Nov. 9, ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on Nov. 12.

The foundation stone for the Kartarpur Corridor on the Indian side was laid in Punjab's Gurdaspur district by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu last November. Two days later, Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Narowal. Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

The four-lane highway connecting the Zero Point of the Kartarpur corridor up to National Highway-354 on the Indian side is being constructed by the National Highways Authority of India.

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