The Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India has approached the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and build the corridor.
Two months after ties between the two countries dipped to a new low following cancellation of a meeting between their Foreign Ministers, Pakistan responded within hours Thursday to an Indian request to build a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib for easy movement of Sikh pilgrims to the shrine, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev.
At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union Cabinet approved construction and development of the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border to allow pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev was said to have spent eighteen years.
Within hours, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi responded and said it has conveyed to India its decision to open the Kartarpur corridor for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will perform the ground-breaking ceremony on November 28.
Taking to Twitter, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called the “Indian Cabinet endorsement of Pakistan’s proposition on #KartarPurBorderOpening” a “victory of peace lobby in both countries” and a step in the “right direction” which, he said, will “encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border”.
The unexpected forward movement on the Kartarpur corridor issue came three months after Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu sparked a controversy when he hugged Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony — Bajwa was said to have conveyed Pakistan’s willingness to open the Kartarpur corridor. The BJP government, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, had then reprimanded Sidhu for his “behaviour” in Pakistan.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh called the Union Cabinet’s approval for the corridor project a “landmark decision”. He tweeted: “The Cabinet approves building and development of Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to International Border. Kartarpur corridor project with all modern amenities and facilities to be implemented with Central Government funding.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also announced the decision.
The government said “pilgrims would then be able to visit the holy shrine throughout the year”. Kartarpur Sahib is situated in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province and there have been demands to build a corridor linking it to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India has approached the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and build the corridor, in keeping with the resolution adopted by the Cabinet Thursday to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev next year.
“We have approached and urged the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of Sikh community and build a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory to facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year,” he said.
In its statement, the government said: “The Kartarpur corridor will be implemented as an integrated development project with Government of India funding, to provide smooth and easy passage, with all the modern amenities. Government of India will put in place suitable facilities for smooth passage of pilgrims. Government of Pakistan will be urged to recognize the sentiments of the Sikh community and to develop a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory as well.”
New Delhi, sources said, wants the corridor to be “open 365 days, 24 hours”, and there must be no restriction on the number of pilgrims travelling across the border. It also wants that there must be free and readily available consular access for Indian citizens on the Pakistani side.
“Despite the harassment that pilgrims face on the Pakistani side, with the display of Khalistani posters or through the lack of access to consular officials, Sikh pilgrims continue to make the difficult journey. Our proposal is so that the burden of pilgrims can be eased significantly,” sources said.