ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistan and India Thursday took a huge step towards peace by announcing to open the Kartarpur corridor for visa-free entry to the Indian Sikh yatrees (pilgrims).
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay foundation stone of Kartarpur corridor on November 28. He said Pakistan had already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpura corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.
“PM Imran Khan will do break ground at Kartarpura facilities on November 28. We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” the minister said in a tweet.
He said the opening of the border from this point would also connect other sacred Sikh places like Dera Baba Nanak Sahab with Kartarpura Ziarat.
His statement came after India’s cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the development of the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the International Border.
This will give Indian pilgrims easy access to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi River in Pakistan’s Narowal city where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that in keeping with the resolution of the cabinet, New Delhi has approached Pakistan on Thursday.
In a letter to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, the ministry noted that the proposal to create a corridor to facilitate easy and smooth access for Indian pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib had been under discussion between the two sides.
While conveying India’s decision to build a corridor on India’s side of the border, New Delhi asked Pakistan to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and develop a corridor with suitable facilities in its territory for the international border to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib to facilitate easier access and smooth passage of Indian pilgrims throughout the year.
Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also welcomed the Indian move to commence the construction of the Kartarpur corridor and called it a “victory of peace”. “It is a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reasons and tranquillity on both sides of the border,” he said.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh welcomed the ‘landmark’ decision to construct a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border with modern amenities and government funding. He urged the Pakistan government to reciprocate by developing a similar corridor on their side of the border.
It was former Indian cricketer Navjaot Singh Sidhu, who made the first announcement that Pakistan was willing to open the Kartarpur corridor. He was passed on this information by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan in August.
Thousands of Sikhs already visit the shrine in Pakistan every year. The corridor indicates a thaw in relations between the two nuclear-armed foes. In September, India called off a meeting between their foreign ministers to protest the killing of Indian security personnel in Kashmir.
In August, however, Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi had felicitated Imran Khan on becoming Pakistan’s PM. Both the leaders also agreed to overcome the past and lay a new foundation for a prosperous political, social and economic future.
Modi had told PM Khan that India was ready for a ‘new era of ties’ with Pakistan and called for crafting collective strategy for combating regional challenges. The Pakistani premier had also stressed on resuming talks adding that issues cannot be resolved through wars.
More than 3,000 Indian Sikh yatrees are already in Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji from November 21-30. The main ceremony will be held on November 23 at Nankana Sahib which will be followed by a visit to Hasanabdal on November 24, Lahore on November 26 then Rohri on November 28. The pilgrims will return to India on November 30.
Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, three kilometers from India, inside Pakistan, is the final resting place of Guru Nanak.
The agreement by Pakistan and India over the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab comes 19 years after it was originally proposed by the Indian government to serve Sikh pilgrims.
Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is located in the Narowal district. It is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak settled and assembled a Sikh community after his missionary travels. The present Gurdwara is built on the site where Guru Nanak died on September 22, 1539.