ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said construction work on the Kartarpur corridor project has entered the final stage, expressing the hope that the world’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.

The corridor will be formally opened three days before Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s 550th birth anniversary that falls on Nov 12.

Sharing a few photos of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib and final touches being given to the corridor project in a post on his official page of Facebook on Sunday, Mr Khan said: “Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from across the globe as the construction work on Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be opened to public on November 9.”

Calling Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur as the world’s largest gurdwara, the prime minister expressed the hope that the Sikh community from India and other parts of the globe would be visiting it. “This will become a major religious hub for the Sikh community,” he said.

Says Gurdwara Darbar Sahib will become a major religious hub for Sikh community across the world

Mr Khan said it would not only boost the local economy, but also result in earning foreign exchange for the country creating jobs in different sectors, including travel and hospitality. The prime minister said religious tourism was on the rise in Pakistan, as earlier Buddhist monks visited various sites [mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab] for religious rituals, which would be followed by the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.

On the Indian side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reportedly set to inaugurate the corridor’s integrated checkpoint on Nov 8, while former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh along with thousands of Sikh pilgrims would be visiting Pakistan for the inauguration of the other part of the corridor.

The former premier’s tour to Pakistan was confirmed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a media talk in Multan on Saturday. He announced that Mr Singh had accepted his invitation to attend the Kartarpur corridor inauguration ceremony. However, he added, Mr Singh would like to be visiting as a common man and not as a special guest.

The Sikh community in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere had long sought easier access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur area.

Although the decision to open Kartarpur border was shared by Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa with the Congress leader and then Indian Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu at the oath-taking ceremony of PM Khan last year, Islamabad announced the date for the groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor only after the Indian Union cabinet agreed to avail the offer of the passageway in view of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith.

Under the proposal, the Indian government is supposed to build and develop the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the border, while Pakistan took the initiative to construct the corridor connecting the border to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in the Kartarpur area of Narowal district.

Visa-free travel

Instead of visas, the Sikh pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the sacred place.

Pilgrims coming from India will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, an 800-metre bridge over River Ravi and an immigration office.

Mr Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan would inaugurate Pakistan’s part of the corridor, facilitating pilgrimage of 5,000 Indian Sikhs everyday to their holy place. India was initially reluctant to open the corridor but due to public pressure from the Indian Punjab, New Delhi decided to arrange a ceremony related to the corridor the same day, he said, adding that the arrangements made by Pakistan were way better than those being finalised by India.

Earlier on Oct 3, Indian Punjab Chief Minister retired captain Amarinder Singh had announced that ex-PM Manmohan Singh would visit the Guru Nanak celebrations in Pakistan “on his invitation”, an indirect way of saying that Pakistan’s invitation to the Indian leader was not a factor.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019