ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and India will finalise the travel plan within the Kartarpura corridor by November 2019, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan and India were in talks on the matter and the two sides will formalise a plan in about a year.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal, who is also the Director General for South Asia, said Pakistan will only lay the foundation for opening of the Kartarpura corridor today and the facility will take some time to develop.

“We are expecting to complete the corridor within one year. We aim the formal inauguration on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Nanak (in November 2019). We might complete the project before that but the inauguration should be in November 2019,” he told The Nation.

In the meantime, he said, Pakistan and India will discuss the travel plan and finalise it before the formal opening of the corridor. “We have time (around a year) to finalise it (the travel plan). Everything should be finalised by that time,” he added.

Last week, Pakistan and India took 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 Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, in November next year.

Earlier, India’s cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 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.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told journalists after a cabinet meeting last week that opening of the Kartarpura corridor to facilitate Sikh community was an effort to normalize ties with India. Chaudhry said the cabinet had approved opening of Kartarpura corridor to facilitate the Sikh community of India.

He said Kartarpura was a sacred place for Sikh community living across the globe. “This is a peace initiative. We expect India to respond. We have always been the first to take positive steps,” he remarked.

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 are already in Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji from November 21-30. The pilgrims will return to India on November 30 and are expected to attend the groundbreaking by PM Imran Khan today (November 28) before returning home. 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.

Another official at the foreign ministry told The Nation that check-points could be established on either side by Pakistan and India to clear the pilgrims for a ‘visa-free’ travel. “There will of course be some terms and conditions. This will not be a total free roaming. All facilities offered will be mutual,” he contended. 

India’s Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri will attend the big event today (November 28). Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi later welcomed the decision of the Indian government to send the ministers to attend the Kartarpura ceremony.

Qureshi said Kartarpura corridor would attract members of Sikh community to Pakistan from across the globe including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, all is set to open Kartarpura border crossing as renowned cricketer and minister of Indian Punjab Navjot Singh Sidhu and other guests from neighbouring country have reached Pakistan. Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has arranged a special dinner for the guests.

Foreign Minister 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.