New Delhi: India and Pakistan have been holding talks on opening a corridor for people to make the pilgrimage to a Sikh place of worship in Pakistan.
The corridor, that will allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan, will be opened in November to mark the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, who spent his final days there.
There had been demands in India for building a corridor to allow pilgrims to cross into Pakistan from India to visit the Kartarpur Sahib shrine, in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab, and return the same day.
An understanding was reached between India and Pakistan last year to build the corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims visa-free travel to the shrine.
In November 2018, the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared a proposal for the corridor after which the ground-breaking ceremony on the Indian side was done by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu while on the Pakistan side it was done by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
India and Pakistan held the first round of talks on the corridor on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border on March 14, 2019, despite escalated tensions after the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir exactly a month earlier.
During the second round of talks on July 14, held at Wagah on the Pakistani side, Pakistan agreed to allow 5,000 pilgrims to visit the gurdwara per day. Pakistan also agreed in principle to allow visa-free, year-long travel to the gurdwara for Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders.
The pilgrims would be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot.
Pakistan also assured the Indian delegation that “no anti-India activity would be allowed”.
The second round of talks were earlier set to be held on April 2, but were postponed after India voiced concerns over the presence of separatist Khalistani members in the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC). India had raised objections to the presence of pro-Khalistani leader Gopal Singh Chawla in the PSGPC.
India is building a four-lane highway to the Pakistan border and a state-of-the-art passenger terminal to cater to the movement of thousands of Sikh pilgrims, both of which will be ready by October 31, a week before the celebrations begin. The highway from the Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to the border is 4.2km.