LAHORE: India has decided to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23, said an official statement issued by New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry on Monday, even though it expressed its disappointment over Pakistan’s decision to levy $20 service fee per pilgrims and asked Islamabad to reconsider it.
“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalization of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed [to Pakistan] that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday,” the statement said.
Pakistan is all set to open the world’s largest Sikh temple to pilgrims and the public on Nov. 9, as construction work on the Kartarpur corridor enters its final stages, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on his official Facebook page on Sunday.
The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan will be inaugurated just ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals, and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak on Nov. 12.
“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” the Prime Minister said on Facebook.
He added: “World’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”
However, India’s official statement on Monday said it was “a matter of disappointment” that Pakistan continued “to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit.”
The Kartarpur project is a rare recent example of diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February this year. In August, relations were further inflamed when India flooded its portion of the disputed Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.
Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent, with Pakistan recalling its envoy from India and banning bilateral trade.
But for the Sikh minority population in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere, the diplomatic overture from Pakistan will come as a relief. The community has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just 4 km over the border in Pakistan, and which otherwise requires a lengthy visa and travel process.
Instead of visas, Sikh and other pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the shrine, with online registration from the Indian interior ministry live on Sunday.
Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has invited the leaders of all Indian political parties to join him to cross the border to the Gurdwara for the opening ceremony.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor but it is yet unclear whether he will cross into Pakistan following the event.
Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, a bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office, with up to 5,000 Indians to be allowed access daily.