The Pakistan government has set a record by issuing 10,000 visas to Sikh pilgrims from India during the first 10 months of 2019.
The number of visas has crossed the accepted limit set by the two countries under a five-decade-old bilateral agreement, the Pakistan High Commission in India’s national capital stated in an official statement on Monday.
Of the 10,000 visas issued so far, over 4,200 visas were issued to “Indian Sikh Pilgrims to partake in the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak from 5-14 November 2019,” the statement added.
The pilgrims will cross from India to Pakistan through the Wagah-Attari border check post on Tuesday and Wednesday (5 and 6 November).
This record issuing of visas has been achieved and accommodated in spite of the ongoing conflict between Indian and Pakistani troops deployed along the so-called Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) that separates both countries in the Jammu and Kashmir region.
“The issuance of visas is in line with the Pakistan government’s efforts to promote visits to religious shrines. The 4,200 visas issued this time is a special gesture against the limit of 3,000 in the bilateral protocol of 1974,” the Pakistan High Commission stated while extending felicitations to the Sikh community in India and across the world.
Pakistan and India signed an agreement on 24 October to open the Kartarpur Corridor, a four-kilometre stretch of road between India and Pakistan, to allow pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Singh Kartarpur, one of the main Sikh shrines in Pakistan.
The agreement is valid initially for a period of five years. India has agreed to hand over the list of pilgrims to Pakistan 10 days in advance and those granted permission to go will be informed only four days before the proposed date of travel.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said during the signing of the agreement to that visas would be required for those persons wanting to visit other Gurdwaras or other parts of Pakistan other than the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.
Though both countries have admitted they still have some differences regarding the corridor, a decision was taken to sign the agreement in the "larger interest" of the Sikh community.
The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib will remain open all seven days of the week from dawn to dusk.
Pakistan's Kartarpur, which means 'place of God’, holds immense significance for Sikhs as it was established by Sikhism founder Guru Nanak.
After crisscrossing the Indian subcontinent and visiting several countries over a period of 22 years (1499-1521), Guru Nanak settled in Kartarpur with his family. The present day Gurdwara Darbar Sahib has been constructed at the place where he is believed to have died in 1539.