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Home / India / Kartarpur corridor hits visa and visitors snag

Kartarpur corridor hits visa and visitors snag

Islamabad contends that neither Saudi Arabia nor Italy provides free visas for pilgrimage to Mecca or the Vatican
A design of the Passenger Terminal Building to be constructed for the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur.

Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 16.03.19, 10:51 PM

The Kartarpur corridor plan to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit Guru Nanak’s resting place in Pakistan seems to have hit hurdles, with New Delhi and Islamabad differing over details such as year-round, visa-free travel and the number of travellers per day.

After Thursday’s bilateral meeting at the Attari-Wagah border, India now feels that Pakistan has shifted the goalposts by insisting on a very small number of pilgrims per day and refusing to keep the corridor open daily.

India wants 5,000 people to be allowed daily to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur district, with the provision of accommodating 10,000 pilgrims — including non-citizens of Indian origin — during festivals. But Islamabad is ready to let in only 700 on the days it plans to keep the corridor open.

Pakistan has shot down India’s suggestion to keep the corridor open every day and is opposed also to visa-free travel. As an alternative to visa-free travel, Islamabad has offered special permits to the pilgrims against a fee provided they make the trip in groups of 15 and in vehicles. India had asked that on-foot journeys be allowed too.

Islamabad contends that neither Saudi Arabia nor Italy provides free visas for pilgrimage to Mecca or the Vatican.

On the subject of Indian-origin pilgrims, Pakistan has said the corridor is meant only for Indian citizens. People of other nationalities, including those of Indian origin, should apply for a Pakistani visa to travel to the shrine, it has said.

Besides, Pakistan plans to keep the corridor open only for two years whereas India’s understanding was that it would be a permanent facility, given the religious sentiments attached and the talk of a “Naya (New) Pakistan’’ under cricketer-turned-Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Fearing that Pakistan will only allow a limited pilgrimage, despite the show of brotherhood at the groundbreaking ceremony in Kartarpur last November, India is now working to limit domestic expectations lest there be a backlash of disappointment later.

The BJP government has found support on the issue from Punjab’s Congress chief minister, Amarinder Singh, who has called for “khule darshan (free access)” daily. Amarinder has described Pakistan’s response to India’s corridor-related demands as inadequate.

“The corridor won’t serve its true purpose with such limitations. Sikhs have been deprived of Kartarpur Gurdwara darshan for 70 years, need to allow more people every day, including from overseas,” he tweeted.

Indications are that India will work with Pakistan on operationalising the corridor, the obstacles notwithstanding.

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