FOREIGN Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal and Joint Secretary of India’s Home Ministry, S.C.L. Das, shake hands after signing the agreement at Kartarpur.—White Star
FOREIGN Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal and Joint Secretary of India’s Home Ministry, S.C.L. Das, shake hands after signing the agreement at Kartarpur.—White Star

NAROWAL: Despite a chill in bilateral ties, Pakistan and India on Thursday signed the landmark Kartarpur Corridor agreement, allowing Sikh pilgrims visa-free access to Darbar Sahib, where the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life.

The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, just four kilometres from the international border, in Narowal district.

Signed by Director General South Asia and SAARC Dr Mohammad Faisal at the Kartarpur zero line, the corridor will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Nov 9, ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on Nov 12.

The Indian side was represented by its Joint Secretary for Home Affairs S.C.L. Das.

Talking to the media after the signing ceremony, Dr Faisal said pilgrims would be facilitated seven days a week from dawn till dusk.

Corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Narowal district

“Under the agreement, India will provide a list of pilgrims 10 days before their visits so that they could be properly received,” Dr Faisal said, adding the first group using the corridor will arrive at the pilgrimage site on Nov 9.

The FO official said five thousand pilgrims would visit the site daily 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.”

The spokesperson further said that details of the agreement would soon be shared (with media) but added that the Sikh pilgrims would have to carry their passports and each visitor would be charged $20 fee.

Dr Faisal said pilgrims coming from India would have to register their entries at the Kartarpur terminal after that they could reach Gurudwara Baba Guru Nanak either by foot or by bus. “It’s up to them.”

He further said that pilgrims coming from India would only be limited to Gurudwara Baba Guru Nanak while those coming from other countries would be free to visit other areas as well. “For visiting other holy sites in Pakistan, Indian pilgrims will have to obtain a visa,” he clarified.

He said the corridor project, which in normal circumstances would take three years, had been completed by the Frontier Works Organization in a record time of 10 months.

According to Indian media, online registration of devotees began soon after the signing of the agreement.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2019