Conflicting messages from Pakistan over the key issue of whether Indian pilgrims will require passport to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib there, and a caution from New Delhi that Islamabad needs to desist from anti-India propaganda marked the run-up to Saturday's inauguration of the much-awaited Kartarpur corridor.
Political clearance to Punjab MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu, who repeatedly sought permission from the government to travel to Kartarpur after receiving an invitation from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, was another issue that was in the spotlight on Thursday even though the External Affairs ministry asserted that it would not do justice to the "very historic event" to highlight "one individual".
Later, official sources said the Congress MLA has been given political clearance to travel to Pakistan to attend the inauguration. Briefing reporters, MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Pakistan has not reverted over the list of the 550 delegates given by India that will be part of the inaugural jatha. "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.
India has also lodged a "strong protest" with the Pakistan after a video released by it on the Kartarpur corridor featured photos of three Khalistani separatist leaders, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Kumar said. "We condemn Pakistan's attempt to undermine the spirit under which the pilgrimage is supposed to be undertaken," Kumar said, adding India has demanded that they remove the objectionable video and also some printed material which is being circulated promoting ant-India propaganda.
The MEA spokesperson also asked Pakistan to ensure adequate security to Indian dignitaries attending the event. Pakistan also gave conflicting messages on the crucial issue of requirement of passport for Indian pilgrims with Pakistan army spokesman asserting that passport would be required to use the Kartarpur Corridor and the Pakistan foreign office contradicting it, and saying Khan has waived the condition of passport for one year for Indian Sikhs visiting the Gurdwara.
Reacting cautiously, MEA said an agreement has been signed between the two countries finalising the modalities for visits and India will stick to it. "You must have seen conflicting reports coming from Pakistan on what is required to undertake the visit. Even today that sense of confusion continued as there was a statement from the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO), while DG ISPR tweeted something else," Kumar said. "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 require to undertake the visit.
Any amendment to the existing MoU, it can't be done unilaterally. It requires consent of both parties," he said. He asserted that for the time being, the Indian side will 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. Hitting out at Pakistan for creating confusion over passport, Kumar accused Pakistan of "posturing" on the issue to show that they have given a "concession".
"From the beginning we have gone ahead with this initiative with a very open mind, very constructively because we realised that it involves the sentiments of the Sikh community and members of other religions, it involves matter of faith," Kumar said. "We have been repeatedly by been assured by the Pakistani side during discussions that they will not allow anti-India elements, anti-India propaganda during the pilgrimage and during the event. They should now stick to the spirit under which they have agreed to this," he said.
During his weekly media briefing in Islamabad, Pakistan FO Spokesman Mohammad Faisal said the condition of passports for Indian Sikhs was waived for one year in the wake of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Prime Minister Khan also waived the requirement to convey pilgrim information to the Pakistani government 10 days prior to entry, and he also waived USD 20 service fee per pilgrim on November 9 and 12, Faisal said, adding Pakistan has "formally conveyed this to India".
The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, just 4 kilometres from the International Border, located in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province. Meanwhile, Pakistan's Punjab police deployed a 100-member special 'Tourism Police Force' for the security of the Indian pilgrims using the corridor on a daily basis from Saturday. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, Union Ministers Hardeep Puri and Harsimrat Kaur Badal are among the 550 pilgrims who are expected to attend the inaugural 'jatha' to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib through Kartarpur corridor.