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Amid chill, India & Pakistan sign pact on Kartarpur Corridor

The signing comes after hectic negotiations over the last year, with Delhi and Islamabad agreeing on most major issues except a $20 fee to be levied by Pakistan per pilgrim on which India has sought a relook.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar , Shubhajit Roy | Gurdaspur, New Delhi |
October 25, 2019 1:42:29 am
Indian and Pakistani officials sign the agreement at Dera Baba Nanak on Thursday. (ANI)

AMID STRAINED ties between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi and Islamabad Thursday finally signed the ‘Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Agreement’ on the zero line at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to facilitate the visit of Indian pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur.

The signing comes after hectic negotiations over the last year, with Delhi and Islamabad agreeing on most major issues except a $20 fee to be levied by Pakistan per pilgrim on which India has sought a relook.

The agreement is significant since it’s essentially a confidence-building measure that comes at a time when the two countries haven’t held bilateral talks amid a series of incidents: terrorist attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama, Balakot air strikes, downgrading of diplomatic ties, withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation status, snapping of trade ties, and cancelling of bus, train and even postal services.

Explained | Why does Pakistan want to charge each Sikh pilgrim to Kartarpur Rs 1,400?

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The corridor will be opened on November 9 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurating the facility in their respective countries. It will be open for the public from November 10. A website — in Punjabi and English — for pilgrims to book their visit (prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in) was also made live Thursday.

Explained

India against conflation with talks process

New Delhi has maintained that the Kartarpur corridor is not to be conflated with the bilateral dialogue process with Pakistan, as it is for pilgrimage and in line with the sentiments and faith of the Sikh community. Islamabad, on the other hand, has portrayed the move as a peace gesture towards India.

The agreement has been signed for five years and can be extended or terminated with notice of one month. Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is the resting place of Guru Nanak Dev and one of most sacred of Sikh religious sites due to its historical value. The key points for pilgrims are:

* Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin can use the corridor.

* While a Pakistani visa will not be required, pilgrims will have to carry valid passports. Persons of Indian origin will need to carry OCI cards with passports of their country.

* The corridor will be open from dawn to dusk, and pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return the same day.

* The corridor will be operational through the year, except on notified days.

* Pilgrims can visit as individuals or in groups, travel on foot.

* India will send the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days ahead of their travel dates. Confirmation will be sent to pilgrims four days earlier.

In a statement, India said the main point of discussion continues to be the insistence of Pakistan on levying US$ 20 (about Rs 1,420) as service charge per pilgrim per visit.

It said that India has consistently urged Pakistan to not levy any fee. However, it said, India agreed to sign the agreement in the interests of the pilgrims and timely operationalisation of the corridor before the 550th Prakash Purb.

India also said that it continues to pursue all-weather connectivity through the corridor. In this context, the government has built a bridge on the Indian side and a temporary service road as an interim arrangement.

“It is expected that Pakistan will fulfil the assurance that it would build the bridge on their side at the earliest,” the statement said. It also said that provisions are made for facilitation of pilgrims. “All the required infrastructure, including the highway and the passenger terminal building, are nearing completion… A robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims,” it said.

Referring to mandatory registration on the website, the statement said pilgrims will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration 3-4 days in advance of travel.

An electronic travel authorisation will also be generated, which will have to be produced along with passports at the passenger terminal building, it said.

At the signing, the Indian delegation was headed by S C L Das, Additional Secretary in Ministry of Home Affairs while Pakistan was led by Dr Mohammad Faisal, D-G South Asia and spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Office.

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