PM Khan's visa-free Kartarpur overruled, passports a 'must'

November 07, 2019

The Foreign Office on Thursday clarified that 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. FO Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal was responding to a question on a statement by Director General ISPR where he termed passport a pre-requisite for Indian Sikhs using the Kartarpur Corridor. "This is the formal position of Foreign Office and the ISPR statement is also in line with it," he said.As a goodwill gesture, the $20 service fee per pilgrim will not be charged for the first two days after the inauguration, the spokesman said. The government will also be waiving the need to inform the government ten days in advance of an Indian pilgrim's visit.

The Indian politician and celebrity of Comedy Nights With Kapil fame, Navjot Singh Sidhu, will also be visiting the holy shrine of Baba Guru Nanak, with his visa having been issued by the Pakistani government. Sidhu was formerly affiliated with Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, before he became a representative of the Indian National Congress. He currently holds a cabinet position within the state government of Indian Punjab. Dr Faisal said Pakistan 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.

He said promotion of Hindu and Buddhist sacred sites situated inside Pakistan was also under consideration as the country's regional territory was the cradle for many diverse civilizations over the centuries. The spokesman rejected the propaganda linking Pakistan's efforts on Kartarpur Corridor to encouraging Khalistan movement, saying, "there is no such negativity in our policy." He said Kartarpur Corridor was solely the initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which was subsequently followed by India after much hesitation.

Asked if Pakistan would like to open similar Corridors with Kargil and Laddakh to facilitate meeting of families living across the border, he said Pakistan had no objection on opening of more passages, but added that India's hesitation in holding discussions on several matters was a major hurdle.On November 1, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that Sikh pilgrims from India would not be needing a passport, saying Indian identity cards would be sufficient to access the Kartarpur Corridor. In an apparent contradiction, the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) wing Asif Ghafoor tweeted that passports will be a "must" for Sikh pilgrims, to maintain the security of the region.

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