ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday regretted that the Indian government had decided against availing “concessions” announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan for Sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur Gurdwara on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Baba Guru Nanak.
“As a special gesture, Pakistan announced concessions on the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak to facilitate pilgrims. This has been REFUSED by India in blatant disregard of Sikh sentiments,” FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal tweeted.
“If India does not wish to avail these facilitative measures for pilgrims, it is India’s choice,” he said.
The spokesman’s reaction came after the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that the visit by Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur Gurdwara via the newly established corridor would be conducted in accordance with the agreed bilateral agreement governing the corridor’s operations.
MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar was quoted by Indian media as saying: “Sometimes they say passport is needed, other times it is not needed. We think there are differences between their Foreign Office and other agencies. We have a memorandum of understanding (MoU), it hasn’t been changed and as per it passport is needed.”
Spokesman says govt was working on other initiatives for promoting religious tourism
Dr Faisal, earlier at his weekly media briefing, said that Pakistan government had as a “special gesture” waived off the passport requirement and the 10-day advance intimation for the pilgrims coming to the shrine. Moreover, $20 service charges per pilgrims were also waived off for Nov 9 and 12.
The special concessions, which were announced by the prime minister through Twitter, were formally conveyed by the Pakistan government to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the government of India.
The government is expecting around 10,000 Sikhs to visit the gurdwara on the occasion of the opening of the visa-free corridor on Nov 9. These include Sikhs coming from India via the corridor, those coming through Wagah border crossing, and Sikhs living in other parts of the world coming here for the occasion.
In reply to a question relating to visas for Sikhs coming through other routes, the spokesman said: “Our missions abroad are also fully facilitating visa requests from Nanak Naamlevas”.
Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, he said, had been issued a visa and would be warmly welcomed at the opening ceremony. Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had first shared the idea of opening Kartarpur Corridor with Mr Sidhu when he last year visited Pakistan for attending PM Imran Khan’s inauguration. Later, Mr Sidhu also came for the groundbreaking ceremony of the project.
According to Indian media, the invitation card issued by the Pakistan government to Mr Sidhu carries serial number ‘0001’.
Dr Faisal said the government was also working on a number of other initiatives for promoting religious tourism. “Sikhs / Nanak Naamlevas, Hindus and Buddhist Monks have various holy sites in Pakistan and we are trying to tap this potential of religious tourism,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to APP, the FO clarified that the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Mr Faisal was responding to a question in connection with a statement by the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations in which he termed passport a must requisite for Indian pilgrims using Kartarpur corridor.
“This is the formal position of Foreign Office and the ISPR statement is also in line with it,” he said.
Asked if Pakistan would like to open similar corridors with Kargil and Ladakh to facilitate meeting of families living across the border, he said Pakistan had no objection on opening of more passages, however India’s hesitation in holding discussions on several matters was a major hurdle in that.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019