By: Radhakrishna NS
INDIA and Pakistan are set to sign an agreement on Indian pilgrims visiting a Sikh shrine in Pakistan, rare cooperation between the neighbours.
The pact will introduce visa-free access from India to the Pakistani town of Kartarpur, home to a temple that marks the site where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, died.
India’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Monday (21) an understanding had been reached on most issues and India was prepared to sign the agreement on Wednesday (23).
Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment but Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper cited a foreign ministry spokesman as saying agreement had been reached and the two sides would sign the pact soon.
The Sikh minority in India has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, which is just over the border in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
The new crossing will be inaugurated in early November, just before the 550th birthday of Sikhism’s founder on November 12, officials from both sides have said.
The shrine is about four kilometre (2-1/2 miles) from the border. The crossing and corridor, including a road, bridge over the Ravi River and immigration office, will replace a drawn-out visa process and circuitous journey through Pakistan.
But there is still disagreement over a $20 fee that Pakistan wants to charge each visitor.
India “has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee”, India’s foreign ministry said.