BARELY 48 hours before the first batch of Sikh pilgrims, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, takes the corridor to Kartarpur Sahib across the border, conflicting statements emerged from Pakistan’s government and Army over a key requirement for Indians — a passport.
Hours after Pakistan’s Army overruled an offer made by Prime Minister Imran Khan that passports would not be required for Sikh devotees from India, its Foreign Office underscored the PM’s decision.
Pak doublespeak angers Delhi
CONFLICTING STATEMENTS from Pakistan on passports for Sikh pilgrims from India expose the faultlines between its government and Army. While Delhi views the Kartarpur project as a pilgrimage corridor, it has been suspicious of Islamabad’s intent and feels that the mask has slipped across the border with the Pakistan Army contradicting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer — and photos and videos in Pakistan’s publicity material showing pro-Khalistan elements.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal tweeted, “As a special gesture, #Pakistan announced concessions on the auspicious occasion of 550th Birth Anniversary of #BabaGuruNanak to facilitate pilgrims.” Faisal went on to claim that India had refused “these facilitative measures”.
New Delhi, however, pointed to the “conflicting reports” from Pakistan and said they will go by the pact signed between the two countries last month, which says passports will be needed but not visa.
India had earlier asked the Pakistan government to clarify whether Khan’s offer, which he posted on his official Twitter account, has been operationalised. On Thursday, Pakistani media quoted Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor as saying that passports will be needed for Indian pilgrims, and there will be “no compromise on security or sovereignty”.
With the corridor opening Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar accused Pakistan of creating “confusion” at the “last moment”.
“You must have seen conflicting reports coming from Pakistan on what is required to undertake the visit. Even today that sense of confusion continued as there was a statement from the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO), while DG ISPR tweeted something else,” Kumar said.
“As of now we are aware that there is a bilateral document which has been signed between India and Pakistan which very clearly specifies the documents which are required to undertake the visit. Any amendment to the existing MoU, it can’t be done unilaterally. It requires consent of both parties,” he said.
He asserted that for the time being, the Indian side will go by the requirements as stipulated by the existing MoU. “So those undertaking the journey on November 9 and also later should go by what is contained in the MoU till it gets revised or amended,” the MEA spokesperson said.
Kumar also said that amendments to the MoU cannot be made “unilaterally”. “Why this posturing, and why this last-minute afterthought by Pakistan?” the spokesperson said.
Kumar also “condemned” Pakistan for “undermining” the spirit of the corridor by releasing videos and propaganda material depicting pro-Khalistan elements. “They should remove the video, and abide by the commitments given by them that no anti-India elements will be given space during the pilgrimage,” the spokesperson said.
“From the beginning we have gone ahead with this initiative with a very open mind, very constructively because we realised that it involves the sentiments of the Sikh community and members of other religions, it involves matter of faith,” Kumar said.
“We have been repeatedly assured by the Pakistani side during discussions that they will not allow anti-India elements, anti-India propaganda during the pilgrimage and during the event. They should now stick to the spirit under which they have agreed to this,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the volte-face by Pakistan on passports for Sikh pilgrims was reported in its domestic media. “As we have a security link, the entry would be a legal one under a permit on a passport-based identity. There will be no compromise on security or sovereignty,” Dawn News quoted Hum News channel as saying.
On November 1, Khan, while announcing the completion of Kartarpur Corridor, had tweeted that he had waived two requirements relating to passport and registration 10 days in advance for Sikh pilgrims coming to Kartarpur from India.
He said that Sikh pilgrims from India would only need a valid ID to travel to Kartarpur. The service fee of US$ 20 for those coming for the inaugural ceremony and on the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru on November 12 was also abolished.
The MEA spokesperson, meanwhile, said that Pakistan is yet to confirm the list of Indian dignitaries who will attend the opening ceremony on the Pakistani side. “We are presuming that all names we have shared with Pakistani side for the inaugural jatha have been cleared,” he said.
Apart from the former PM and his family, the list of about 150-160 dignitaries who will be part of the first batch of about 550 pilgrims includes Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her husband former Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, and several ministers, MPs and MLAs from Punjab.
According to the MEA spokesperson, Giani Harpreet Singh, the jathedar of Akal Takht, will lead the Indian delegation as the religious leader.
Sources said Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu has been granted political clearance by the central government to travel to Kartarpur on Pakistan’s invitation in November, sources said. Sidhu has already been granted visa by the Pakistan High Commission.