Pakistan and India signed an agreement on Thursday, to operationalise the Kartarpur Corridor, allowing Sikh pilgrims from both countries to visit two of their shrines – the Dera Baba Nanak shrine on the Indian side of Punjab state, and the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistan side of Punjab from November onwards.
The agreement was signed at the "Zero Point" of the Wagah-Attari border check-post. Both shrines are located just four kilometres away from each other.
An Indian government official, while briefing media on the agreement admitted that although minor differences remain between New Delhi and Islamabad regarding the corridor, a decision was taken to sign in the "larger interest" of the Sikh community.
He said the Indian side again urged Pakistan not to levy a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit, as it goes against the spirit and solemnity of the auspicious occasion celebrating the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev.
"It is a matter of disappointment that while an understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit," the Indian government official said.
"We hope that good sense will prevail and that the Pakistan government will change and or reverse their decision to levy this fee on visiting pilgrims," he added.
The official further stated the Indian government has taken steps to ensure all-weather connectivity along the Kartarpur Corridor and put in place state-of-the-art infrastructure, including a bridge and a passenger terminal, to facilitate the smooth movement of pilgrims during the landmark historic event.
He said the Pakistan side is yet to construct a connecting bridge. "They (Pakistan) have assured us about building a bridge on their side of the corridor. We, however, are creating a temporary service lane apart from the bridge to help the pilgrims."
India has implemented state-of-the-art security infrastructure along the corridor on its side, the official revealed, adding that the government has also created an online portal to make the registration process people-friendly.
He said pilgrims could select their date of travel which the government would approve on a first-come-first-serve principle. Pilgrims will be informed of their slot four days before their scheduled date of travel.
Separate arrangements will be made for electronic travel authorisations (ETAs) which will be issued via SMS or email attachments.
Pilgrims from India and those holding Overseas Citizen of India Cards will be permitted to undertake the visit to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistan side of Punjab on and after the formal opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November, he said.
India and Pakistan have already agreed on visa-free travel for Indian pilgrims. Pilgrims will only have to carry their passports for a visit.
Thursday's agreement is significant given that not many have been inked between the two nations since they became independent from British colonial rule in 1947, Geo TV News reported.
As regards visits to religious shrines, a bilateral agreement on the protocol was signed in 1974.
Pilgrims will be permitted to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur from morning till evening.
It is expected that the prime ministers' of India and Pakistan – Narendra Modi and Imran Khan – respectively will formally inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor in the second week of November.