ICMD, Nov 22, 2018

India on Thursday approved the building of a new border entry point and road connecting the northern state of Punjab to the border with Pakistan, making it quicker and easier for Sikh pilgrims to visit a holy site.

“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,” the Indian government said in a statement.

“In a landmark decision, 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,” India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted following a cabinet meeting.

Diplomatic sources said Indian Home Ministry has also written a letter to the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi in which Islamabad’s decision to open the Kartapur corridor has been appreciated.

Pakistan has also decided to open the Kartarpur corridor on its side of the border and Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay the foundation stone this month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a tweet. “Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. PM Imran Khan will do break ground at Kartarpura facilities on 28th November. We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” he added.

“Indian Cabinet endorsement of Pakistan’s proposition on #KartarPurBorderOpening is a victory of peace lobby in both countries,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Hussain said in a tweet. “It’s a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reason and tranquillity on both sides of the border,” he added.

The Gurdwara Kartarpur Darbar Sahib in Narowal in Punjab province holds religious significance for the Sikh community. It is where Baba Guru Nanak settled down after his travels as a missionary. He lived there for 18 years until his death in 1539.

More than 3,000 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Lahore from India via special trains on Wednesday to celebrate the 549th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji from November 21-30. The main ceremony will be held on November 23 at Nankana Sahib, which will be followed by a visit to Hasanabdal on the 24th, Lahore on 26th and Rohri on the 28th. The pilgrims will return to India on November 30.

In August, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had told Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu that Pakistan would open the Kartarpur crossing “when [the Sikh community] celebrates the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Nanak”, when the latter had visited Islamabad for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony.

The 550th birth anniversary of the revered Sikh figure is next year.

Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari appreciated the decision to open Kartarpur border corridor by Pakistani and Indian governments for Sikh pilgrims, and welcomed the Sikh pilgrims who had traveled to Pakistan to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

Recognizing the decision as the fulfillment of the dream of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after a quarter century, he recalled that his mother had first proposed to grant a visa-less free corridor to Kartarpur shrine from the Indian border.

Bilawal said PPP always stood for people-to-people contacts between the two neighboring countries and every government led by PPP had taken significant steps to facilitate the Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims from India and the world over to visit their sacred places. He pledged that PPP will continue to initiate and support more facilities for non-Muslim pilgrims to visit their holy places in Pakistan.