The agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor project, which will open the famed pilgrimage centre to Indians, could not be signed on Wednesday after Pakistan declared that it would charge fees from the visitors. A statement from government sources said the two sides, which met in Attari, were in agreement on most points, but the final pact stalled over key differences.
“Owing to certain differences over a few issues, the agreement could not be finalised. Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit of smooth and easy access through the corridor,” sources said.
It was also pointed out that Pakistan declined India’s request to let consular officials accompany the pilgrims.
The presence of Indian consular officials at Kartarpur has acquired importance in view of the reported activities of Khalistan proponents in Pakistan. India had objected to the inclusion of pro-Khalistan Gopal Singh Chawla in the reconstituted Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committtee (PSGPC) and other such figures in the organisation that looks after the Sikh holy shrines in Pakistan. These names were removed from the PSGPC before the July 14 technical-level meeting.
Sources declared that understanding was reached on the visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims without any restrictions. The pilgrimage will also be available to the holders of OCI cards. According to the bilateral understanding 5,000 pilgrims can visit the Gurdwara daily and the Corridor will also be able to accommodate a surge crowd of additional 5,000 pilgrims on special days like Vaisakhi and the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
India and Pakistan have been building infrastructure on both sides of the border for the pilgrims who will begin festivities in the first week of November to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, who spent many years of his life at this sacred location. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, stated that a “nominal amount” was to be charged from pilgrims for the maintenance of the holy shrine.
The inability to sign the agreement now has left both sides with a narrow timeline as the festivities for the birth anniversary are to intensify by the last week of October. The Pakistani side has insisted that in view of the approaching events, the next round of talks be held as early as next week. Once operational, Kartarpur Corridor project will be the first such project between the two countries since the Partition of 1947 which left the Sikh shrine across the border in Pakistani territory.
In a historic first, a Sikh Jatha or procession arrived in Amritsar in the first week of August from Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, in Pakistan. The event was part of the celebrations regarding the Guru and was the first time that such a procession was received in India in the last seven decades.