ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday expressed satisfaction over the arrangements being made for the opening of Kartarpur corridor on Nov 9 and said he had waived off the condition of passport for Sikh pilgrims in order to provide maximum facilities to them on the occasion of celebrations marking the 550th birthday of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Ahsan Iqbal had on Saturday criticised the prime minister for taking a “security risk” by waiving off the condition and said such a step had rarely, if ever, been taken before.
For his part, Awami National Party leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain had said that on the one hand India was committing atrocities in occupied Kashmir, but on the other Mr Khan was providing unprecedented facilities to Indian nationals.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressed similar views on Sunday. Talking to journalists in Bahawalpur, he said the move would make the people of occupied Kashmir wonder whether or not Pakistan was “really serious about the Kashmir cause”.
Fears India can ‘sabotage’ efforts being made to facilitate Sikh visitors
The prime minister had on Friday announced that not only the condition of passport but also that of registration of pilgrims 10 days prior to their arrival at the Kartarpur corridor had been lifted.
Presiding over a meeting held on Sunday to review the arrangements being made for the opening of the corridor, the prime minister said that India was not opening the corridor willingly and with happiness.
He also expressed the fear that an attempt could be made from the other side of the border to “sabotage” the efforts being made to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims.
Mr Khan praised his own government for completing the corridor project “in record time”.
The corridor, he said, was now ready to welcome Sikh pilgrims from across the world.
The premier said the Sikhs wishing to cross over into Pakistan to take part in Guru Nanak’s birthday celebrations would only have to prove their identity because they would be coming from the Indian side after thorough checking and clearance.
According to the Prime Minister Office, the meeting was also attended by Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah and secretaries of the ministries of foreign affairs, defence, finance and religious affairs.
Following threadbare negotiations, Pakistan and India signed an agreement last month, paving the way for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor this month.
The four-kilometre-long corridor would provide Sikh pilgrims visa-free travel between Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur and the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district, India. Up to 5,000 Indian Sikhs would be allowed access daily, with plans to double the capacity.
Prime Minister Khan will inaugurate the Kartarpur corridor on Nov 9 for which ceremony former Indian cricket star and lawmaker Navjot Singh Sidhu has also been invited.
According to media reports, India has shared with Pakistan a list of 575 people who will be part of the first Sikh delegation to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib after passing through the newly constructed corridor.
Seventy-six immigration counters have been prepared to cater to some 5,000 Sikh pilgrims from India. The border terminal has been built 350 metres from the zero-point and the pilgrims will be transported aboard buses to the Gurdwara where they will be given airport-style facilities, according to a media report.
Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is located 4.5km from the international border in Narowal district and is one of the holiest places for Sikhs. It is where Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji settled and preached for the last 18 years of his life and is his last resting place.
Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2019