India irked over passports for Kartarpur visit

Islamabad continued to irk New Delhi with its conflicting messages on the requirement of passports for the pilgrims, who are likely to travel from India to the final resting place of Guru Nanak in Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor on Saturday – marking the inauguration of the cross-border corridor.

New Delhi accused Islamabad of “posturing” and sending out confusing messages on whether or not Indian pilgrims visiting the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor should carry passports.

With no clarity on Pakistan government's position on the issue, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi advised the pilgrims, who would visit the shrine on the day of the inauguration of the corridor and later, to carry the passports, in accordance with the October 25 pact inked by the two nations.

Islamabad, on the other hand, accused New Delhi of hurting the sentiments of the Sikhs by refusing the exemptions offered by Pakistan government for the pilgrims from India – including on the requirement of passports.

“You must have seen conflicting reports coming from Pakistan on what is required to undertake the visit,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, said.

He was referring to a media reports quoting Pakistan Army's spokesperson, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, saying that the Indian Sikh pilgrims would require a passport to use the Kartarpur Corridor – thus contradicting the neighbouring country's Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had waived the requirement a few days back.

"As of now, we are aware that there is a bilateral document which has been signed between India and Pakistan which very clearly specifies the documents which are required to undertake the visit. Any amendment to the existing MoU (Memorandum of Understanding), it cannot be done unilaterally. It requires the consent of both parties."

Kumar made it clear that India would go by the requirements as stipulated by the existing MoU.

“So those undertaking the journey on November 9 and also later should go by what is contained in the MoU till it gets revised or amended,” the MEA spokesperson added.

His counterpart in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Government, Mohammad Faisal, accused New Delhi of refusing the waivers in “blatant disregard” for the sentiments of the Sikhs. “India is creating confusion to confuse,” Faisal posted on Twitter.

He said in Islamabad that Pakistan Government had exempted Indian pilgrims from carrying passport for visiting the shrine in Pakistan for Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary celebrations, the requirement to convey pilgrim information to the Government of Pakistan 10 days prior to the entry through Kartarpur Sahib Corridor and the US $20 service charges per pilgrim, per visit, on the day of inauguration and on November 12 – the day the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism would be celebrated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor's stretch in India at Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab on November 9, on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. His counterpart Imran Khan too will inaugurate the corridor's stretch in Pakistan in the neighbouring country on the same day.

The first 'jatha' of about 550 pilgrims, who will use the corridor to travel from Dera Baba Nanak in India to the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, will include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh, former Deputy Chief Minister of the State Sukhbir Singh Badal, Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri and Harsimrat Kaur, as well as several parliamentarians.

Islamabad turned down a request by New Delhi for allowing an advance team to visit the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan to see the arrangements for the visit of the first 'jatha' of pilgrims from India comprising senior political leaders, parliamentarians and dignitaries.

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