Amidst euphoria amongst pilgrims, officials worry about Kartarpur logistics

Amidst euphoria amongst pilgrims, officials worry about Kartarpur logistics

‘We have yet to decide on which point on the border the pilgrims will cross over’ 

For scores of Sikh pilgrims from India who were at this shrine on the banks of the Ravi river in Pakistan as the foundation stone was laid for the Kartarpur corridor, the development is nothing short of a miracle.ALSO READPakistan PM Imran Khan pitches for peace with India

“It can only be an act of god or angels that we will soon be able to do this distance in just a four-km ride,” says 72-year-old Avtar Singh Monga from Rae Bareilly, who says he is overjoyed that his first visit to Pakistan since his family moved to India during Partition, has coincided with the ceremony that saw three Ministers from India join Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

‘Unique experiment’

According to Lahore-based historian and author Fakir S. Aijazuddin, the Kartarpur corridor will be a unique experiment in cross-border ties in an otherwise difficult relationship.

“This will be a place where people from both India and Pakistan can come together to honour the Guru [Nanak] who straddled all religions: Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism which he founded Sikhism. There is a universality that can be symbolised by Kartarpur where Guru Nanak’s message can radiate from,” he told The Hindu.

Despite the euphoria over the foundation-laying ceremonies in Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur this week, officials say they are apprehensive that the short distance of six kilometres between them cannot be spanned until there are direct talks between Indian and Pakistani delegations.ALSO READ Kartarpur corridor foundation laying event: India protests Imran Khan’s reference to Kashmir during ‘a pious occasion’

Senior officials in New Delhi and Islamabad confirmed that no such talks have been held as yet, although both governments have been working separately for some months on plans to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, which falls on November 23, 2019.

“We [India and Pakistan] have yet to decide on which point on the border the pilgrims will cross over, nor are we sure of what the model for identification and security protocols will be,” said one senior Indian official, aware of the planning thus far and who asked not to be identified.

Plan in place

On Wednesday, the Pakistan government unveiled an elaborate plan for the corridor, with timelines for its completion. While the survey for the corridor is now complete, the design and land acquisition will be completed in December. Work on the roads and facilities along the way will be completed by November 1 next year, according to the presentation by a U.S. firm.ALSO READKartarpur corridor ceremony: Hate can be ended, says Harsimrat Kaur Badal 

The construction includes a boarding terminal from where shuttle buses will run to the Kartarpur shrine, and an 800-metre-long bridge over the Ravi. There will also be temporary accommodation and tents for pilgrims, who will require special permits, but no visas. In the second phase, the plan will include the construction of hotels and shops to cater to pilgrims with visas.

Security will be a major priority said Pakistani officials involved in the planning, and apart from fencing along the corridor, there will be biometric checks for the pilgrims, with specially allotted times for worship. However, much will depend on the model for pilgrim transfer that the two sides agree to. At present, India has the Wagah model where passports are used, and the cross-LoC model that is used for bus in Kashmir, where special permits are given, as well as the ones used at respective “border haats” for trade along India’s borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar which allow for freer travel for traders.

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