The day before the historic opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, linking Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, a group of Canadian Sikh pilgrims were welcomed with garlands at the Wagah immigration terminal.
The pilgrims had crossed the Attari-Wagah border to take part in the inauguration of the corridor by Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will open the link on the Indian side.
The warmth on the ground, however, failed to find an echo at the government level. As Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi raked up the Kashmir issue Friday, the administration took another U-turn on a commitment by PM Khan to waive the fee of $20 per pilgrim on the opening day.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Army had overruled another commitment by Khan that Sikh pilgrims from India would not need to carry their passports.
Speaking to reporters in Lahore, Qureshi referred to Kashmir and criticised the “communication blackout” in the Valley and what he claimed were “ceasefire violations taking place on the LoC”. He claimed that even Opposition parties in India are “not buying socio-economic development claims”.
Qureshi also criticised the abrogation of Article 370. Asked about talks, he said: “There cannot be a bilateral exchange at this Kartarpur corridor opens today amid war of words on pilgrim passage rules stage. We do not want dialogue for the sake of a dialogue. I do not see any meaningful dialogue taking place,” he said.
Asked about the confusion over the passport requirement, Qureshi said: “I agree that it is not part of the agreement but this was a special gesture on part of the PM (Imran Khan) on the 550th birth anniversary (of Guru Nanak).” He claimed that India had chosen to not “avail” the offer.
The Foreign Minster, however, insisted that the facilitation fee of US$ 20 “shall be waived off” on November 9 and 12.
Over the last 48 hours, conflicting versions have emerged from Pakistan on the concessions announced by PM Khan for Sikh pilgrims on the inaugural day and the 550th birth anniversary on November 12. After the Army overruled Imran, sources in Delhi said Pakistan has conveyed that it will charge the facilitation fee from each pilgrim on Saturday.
Claiming that the “Kartarpur initiative was taken by Pakistan”, Qureshi said that “there are many who are associating sinister designs to it”. “Some feel there is a deep-seated design to fan some movement in Indian Punjab. No, that is nonsense,” he said.
Sources told The Indian Express that the Pakistan government is expecting around 10,000 Sikh pilgrims from India and across the world on the opening day.
Sources said that while security for the event in Kartarpur would be in the hands of the Pakistan Army and Rangers, over 600 police personnel from Punjab province have also been deployed.
Prithipal Singh, a pilgrim from Toronto, said travel agents have booked special packages for Canadian pilgrims to visit Kartarpur and other gurdwaras in Pakistan. “I am part of a group of 200 from Toronto,” he said.
In Delhi, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Modi will inaugurate the Integrated Check Post (ICP) of the Kartarpur Corridor. Before the ceremony, the Prime Minister will pay obeisance at Ber Sahib gurdwara in Sultanpur Lodhi, and later participate in a public programme at Dera Baba Nanak.
The first batch of 550 Indian Sikh pilgrims will include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, and about 150-160 other dignitaries, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her husband and former Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Badal.
In Kartarpur, the inaugural is likely to be attended by Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and Punjab province’s Governor Mohammad Sarwar and Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. Imran Khan and other dignitaries will take a round of the new gurdwara complex before taking part in the formal inauguration ceremony.
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