ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and India will soon start negotiations on the terms and conditions of the Kartarpura corridor plan, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that work had already been started on the corridor on the Pakistani side so there was no looking back.

“The corridor will open in November 2019 as planned. Hopefully there will be no hurdles,” one official said. He maintained that Pakistan had committed to open the corridor to facilitate the Sikh community and help build people-to-people contacts.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said the corridor would be formally opened in November 2019 so the two countries had time to negotiate the conditions. “We will definitely negotiate the terms and conditions. It will be finalised before the (corridor) opening,” he told The Nation.

Faisal said the two countries will soon start negotiations on the project. “So far there have been no negotiations but there will be talks (on the subject before the formal opening),” he said.

Pakistan and India are expected to set up facilitation centres and check posts on their own sides. Officials said the permit issued by Pakistan will be only for the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib and if the Sikh pilgrims wished to travel elsewhere, they would need a visa. Pakistan and India will also discuss the duration of Sikh pilgrims stay on the Pakistani side. Pakistan is expecting to complete the corridor within one year and formally inaugurate the corridor on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Nanak in November 2019.

In November, Pakistan and India had taken a huge step towards peace by announcing to open the Kartarpura corridor for visa-free entry to the Indian Sikh yatrees (pilgrims). Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpuraa Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

India’s cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also approved the development of the Kartarpura corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the International Border.

This will give Indian pilgrims easy access to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpura on the banks of the Ravi river, in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years.

It was former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who made the first announcement that Pakistan was willing to open the Kartarpura corridor.  He was passed on this information by army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan in August.

Thousands of Sikhs visit the shrine in Pakistan every year. The corridor indicates a thaw in relations between the two nuclear-armed foes. In September, India had called off a meeting between their foreign ministers to protest the killing of Indian security personnel in Kashmir.

In August, however, Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi had felicitated Imran Khan on becoming Pakistan’s PM. Both the leaders also agreed to overcome the past and to lay a new foundation for a prosperous political, social and economic future.

Modi had told PM Khan that India was ready for a ‘new era of ties’ with Pakistan and called for crafting collective strategy for combating regional challenges. The Pakistani premier had also stressed on resuming talks adding that issues cannot be resolved through wars.

More than 3,000 Indian Sikh yatrees were in Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji from November 21-30. They returned to India on November 30 after attending the groundbreaking by PM Imran Khan on November 28. Gurdwara Kartarpura Sahib, three kilometers from India, inside Pakistan, is the final resting place of Guru Nanak.

Darbar Sahib Kartarpura is located in the Narowal district. It is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak settled and assembled a Sikh community after his missionary travels. The present Gurdwara is built on the site where Guru Nanak died on September 22, 1539.

The Gurdwara is also notable for its location near the border between Pakistan and India. The shrine is visible from the Indian side of the border as Pakistani authorities generally trim the tall elephant grass that would otherwise obstruct the view. Indian Sikhs gather in large numbers to perform darshan, or sacred viewing of the site, from the Indian side of the border.

India’s Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri had attended the November 28 inauguration on the Pakistani side.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had also extended invitation to his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj and Chief Minister of India’s Punjab province Amarinder Singh but the two declined for different reasons.