Passports or no passports? The Kartarpur confusion

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Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara.
Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara.

Amid conflicting messages emanating from Pakistan ahead of the Kartarpur inauguration, India said that pilgrims going from India would have to carry their passports to use the cross-border corridor to reach the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, addressing a briefing here, said that despite the corridor slated to be inaugurated on Saturday “a sense of confusion continues”, in the wake of the latest tweet by Pakistan military’s media wing.

Kumar said the Indian government would go by the bilateral MoU inked between the two sides on the Kartarpur corridor.

“As of today, there is a bilateral document which has been signed between the two sides, which very clearly specifies the documents needed to undertake the visit,” he said.

On Thursday, Pakistan Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted, saying that Indian Sikh pilgrims would require a passport to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara.

The DG ISPR’s tweet came a week after Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Indian Sikh pilgrims coming to Kartarpur “won’t need a passport – just a valid ID”.

On November 1, Prime Minister Imran Khan had tweeted that no passport would be needed for identification and prior registration for the visitors, leading to numerous questions from Indian pilgrims.

Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Faisal also said that Pakistan was waiving the requirement of announcing the list of pilgrims 10 days in advance and that it was waiving the $20 service fee from pilgrims on November 9 and 10.

The FO spokesperson also said the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture on the 550th birth anniversary of Sikh spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak, according to The News.

The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province is located 4.5 km from the Indian border. The shrine will be accessible to Indian pilgrims throughout the year via the corridor.

The MEA spokesperson said any amendment to the MoU “cannot be done unilaterally, it requires the consent of both parties”.

“So, for the time being, we are going by the requirements as stipulated in the MoU,” he said.

He said that those undertaking the journey on November 9 and later “will have to go by what is contained in the MoU, till it is revised or amended to include other provisions requested or proposed by the Pakistani side”.

Asked if Pakistan has confirmed the list of the 550 delegates to use the corridor on November 9, he said that so far Pakistan has not got back on the list.

“Pakistan is supposed to confirm the final list of pilgrims at least four days in advance of the visit. The journey is to take place the day after tomorrow, and so we presume that all the names we have shared with Pakistan, they stand confirmed and we have accordingly informed those who are part of the jatha,” he said.

He also said that since there are former prime ministers and chief ministers in the jatha “adequate arrangements should be made in terms of security for the dignitaries” by Pakistan.

The spokesperson said that Pakistan had issued a visa to Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for his visit to the holy shrine.

Faisal said Pakistan was expecting a massive inflow of Sikhs from all over the world to visit their revered site.

He said promotion of Hindu and Buddhist sacred sites situated inside Pakistan was also under consideration as the country was a cradle of ancient civilizations for centuries.

IANS