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November 8, 2019

Kartarpur Corridor ribbon-cutting tomorrow

Top Story

November 8, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Going the extra mile to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims, Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday announced one-year passport waiver as a special gesture on the 550th birth anniversary of Sikh spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak.

The opening of the landmark Kartarpur Corridor is scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 9.

The Foreign Office of Pakistan said the credit should be given to the prime minister for the initiative.

“Not to rub it in, but this was solely Pakistan’s initiative. This was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative, which India then agreed to,” said the Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Muhammad Faisal.

However, later in the evening, the Indian government refused these goodwill gestures.

Responding, the Government of Pakistan said India was confused by all these goodwill gestures.

“These (goodwill gestures) have been refused by India in a blatant disregard for the Sikh sentiments. If India does not wish the pilgrims to avail themselves of these facilitative measures, it is their choice. India is creating confusion to confuse,” Faisal said in a tweet.

Earlier, a slight misunderstanding had emerged when the prime minister had tweeted, “For Sikhs coming for pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off 2 requirements: i) they won’t 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”.

Later, DG ISPR told a private channel that the Sikh pilgrims could only enter with a passport-based identity as the national security was involved.

During the weekly media meeting at the Foreign Office, the spokesman clarified that there was no difference between the statements of prime minister and director general ISPR.

He said the Indian High Commission had been informed that Pakistan had waived [the requirement] for pilgrims to carry their passports for the 550th birth celebrations, waived the requirement to convey pilgrim information to the Pakistani government 10 days prior to entry through Kartarpur Sahib Corridor and also waived the $20 service charge per pilgrim per visit on Nov 9 and Nov 12.

"This is the formal position of the Foreign Office, and the ISPR statement is also in line with it," the spokesman said in response to several queries.

Earlier India wanted complete waiver of service charges for all Yatrees but Pakistan did not agree.

To another query, the spokesman confirmed that Pakistan had issued a visa to the Indian politician from Congress Navjot Singh Sidhu for his visit to the shrine of Baba Guru Nanak.

Domestic politics in the Indian Punjab saw Sidhu’s name struck off the official delegation that the Punjab Chief Minister Captain (retd) Amarinder Singh was leading to Kartarpur.

It was Sidhu who was the first Indian to be informed by no less than the Army Chief General Bajwa nearly a year ago that Pakistan was ready to open and operationalize Kartarpur for Sikh Yatrees.

However, according to the Indian rules, Sidhu has to take permission from the Central government before traveling to Pakistan.

According to the Indian media, Indian External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar commented about Sidhu: "He can do whatever he wants. I have already said that this is a big occasion, and we cannot focus on an individual traveler’s plans to go to Kartarpur”.

Pakistan, said the spokesman, 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.

But it is not the Sikh holy sites that the PTI government is opening up, in future Hindu and Buddhist sacred sites situated inside Pakistan is also under consideration.

“Pakistan is a cradle of ancient civilizations for centuries,” he added.

Of late the Indian Punjab chief minister as well as the BJP politicians openly stated that the opening of Kartarpur Corridor was in truth an attempt to encourage the Khalistan movement where the Sikhs want to separate from India.

Denying these accusations, the spokesman responded, “There is no such negativity in our policy”.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan took another dip after the Pakistani diplomats were obstructed on the road and embassy vehicles were hit by motorcycles while going towards the embassy.

However, as pressure from ailing Afghans wishing to come to Pakistan grew, the spokesman announced that the embassy in Kabul will be processing visa applications for medical emergency patients but consular services will remain closed.

"The officers and staff of the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul had been arrested continuously,” added the spokesman demanding complete security for them.