By Muhammad Luqman
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced to waive passport and pre-registration requirements for the Sikhs coming for pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India on the 550th birth anniversary of their spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak.
With an aim to give more relief to the Sikh community visiting Pakistan, PM Imran took to twitter to make the announcement, saying: “For Sikhs coming for pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off 2 requirements: i) they wont need a passport – just a valid ID; ii) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance. Also, no fee will be charged on day of inauguration & on Guruji’s 550th birthday.”
Khan said that no fee will be charged on day of inauguration and on Guruji’s 550th birthday.
According to the historic Kartarpur Corridor agreement signed last week, allowing Sikh pilgrims visa-free access to their religion’s holy site in Punjab’s Narowal district, the pilgrims were required to carry their passports and $20 fee was set as service charges, however PM Imran has waived both the conditions.
The corridor will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 9.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has clarified that the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture on the 550th birth anniversary of founder of Sikhism Baba Guru Nanak.
FO Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal was responding to a question on a statement by Director General ISPR where he termed passport a must requisite for Indian pilgrims using Kartarpur Corridor.
“This is the formal position of Foreign Office and the ISPR statement is also in line with it,” he said at weekly briefing in the capital Islamabad on Thursday.
The spokesman said that $20 service fee per pilgrim would not be charged for first two days after inauguration of Corridor, i.e.November 9 and 10.
He said the package of goodwill gestures also included abolishing the requirement of 10-day advance intimation.
He confirmed that Pakistan had issued visa to Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for his visit to holy shrine of Baba Guru Nanak.
Dr Faisal said Pakistan was expecting a massive inflow of Sikhs from all over the world to visit their revered site, adding that the incumbent government had in particular interest in promotion of religious tourism.
He said promotion of Hindu and Buddhist sacred sites situated inside Pakistan was also under consideration as the country was a cradle of ancient civilizations for centuries.
The spokesman rejected the propaganda linking Pakistan’s efforts on Kartarpur Corridor to encouraging Khalistan movement, saying, “there is no such negativity in our policy.”
He said Kartarpur Corridor was solely the initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which was subsequently followed by India after much hesitation.
Asked if Pakistan would like to open similar Corridors with Kargil and Laddakh to facilitate meeting of families living across the border, he said Pakistan had no objection on opening of more passages, however India’s hesitation in holding discussions on several matters was a major hurdle.
On a recent map issued by the government of India identifying Azad Kashmir as well as certain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan as its territory, the spokesman said, “Pakistan’s position is in line with UN Security Council resolutions which states that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory.”
He said the final resolution of J&K territory only rested with holding of a free and fair plebiscite in the Valley.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has finally allowed Navjot Singh Sidhu to attend the inauguration of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Corridor, after the cricketer-turned-politician wrote his third letter to the Indian foreign ministry on Thursday requesting permission to visit Pakistan.
Pakistan has already issued a visa to Sidhu after Prime Minister Imran Khan invited him to attend the historic opening of the corridor, which has been built for Indian Sikh pilgrims traveling to the holy Gurdwara Darbar Sahib temple from a visa-free border crossing.
Indian media, quoting official sources, reported on Thursday evening that Sidhu had been given political clearance by the government to take part in the Kartarpur Corridor inauguration ceremony on the Pakistani side.
However, quoting sources, Indian media reported that Sidhu was granted permission only to travel as part of the first group coming from India for the pilgrimage to the Kartarpur Gurdwara, the world’s largest Sikh shrine and the final resting place of Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak.
The permission from the Indian government has come through after Sidhu wrote three letters requesting to Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar asking for the government’s clearance for his visit.
In his third letter, Sidhu pleaded to Jaishankar for a reply, saying he would proceed to Pakistan other Sikh devotees if the minister doesn’t respond.
“Despite repeated reminders you have not responded to whether or not the government has granted me permission to go to Pakistan for inauguration ceremony of Gurdwara Darbar Sahid Kartarpur Corridor. The delay and no response is a hindrance to my future course of action,” the former cricketer wrote in his letter.
“I categorically state that if the government has any inhibitions and say no then, as a law abiding citizen, I will not go. But if you don’t respond to my third letter, then I will proceed to Pakistan as millions of Sikh devotees go on eligible Visa,” he added.