Pak govt considering passport exemption for Kartarpur pilgrims, takes Delhi by surprise

Shubhajit Roy
Kartarpur corridor, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan, Madhya Pradesh govt pilgrimage scheme, indian express, latest news

The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib corridor opened last year

In a surprise for New Delhi, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ijaz Shah told Pakistan’s parliament on Friday that Islamabad is considering allowing Indian pilgrims to the Kartarpur corridor without a passport in order to attract more visitors to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

According to a Pakistan English daily, Express Tribune, Shah told the National Assembly that while at present, passport-free entry of Indian pilgrims to the Kartarpur corridor is not allowed, in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed between Pakistan and India, a change in this was under consideration. Detailed inputs might be sought from the Foreign Affairs Ministry in this regard, he said.

“As per procedure, pilgrims can visit the corridor from dawn till dusk after producing Indian passport or overseas citizen of Indian-origin card along with the passport of the resident country,” he said. The pilgrims are exempted from visas.

Sources in New Delhi, however, said they were not aware of any such proposal from Pakistan yet. “The major challenge is that Pakistan is charging $20 fees, which we have asked be waived. That would help attract more visitors,” a government source told The Sunday Express.

New Delhi also maintains that any change regarding passports for access would have to be incorporated in the agreement between the two countries on operationalising the Kartarpur corridor.

In November last year, Pakistan and India had separately inaugurated the historic corridor on their sides of the border. The corridor provides the shortest route for pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of Pakistan’s Narowal district, where Guru Nanak is believed to have spent last 18 years of his life, round the year, without visas.

Officials in Delhi said the facilitation procedures were part of the bilateral agreement with Pakistan, finalised after discussions. “Any change can be undertaken only with the consent of both parties formally and not through a tweet or statement,” an official said, adding that a regular review regarding Kartarpur is undertaken by an Empowered Committee chaired by an officer of the level of Secretary in the Union Home Ministry.

Meanwhile, the government has eased passport services in Punjab, with several new passport offices and Seva Kendras.