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Kartarpur opening tomorrow, Pakistan Army overrules Imran: Passport needed

Shubhajit Roy
Kartarpurcorridor, Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan Army, Manmohan Singh, Imran Khan, Sikh devotees, Major General Asif Ghafoor, Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar

Barely 48 hours before the first batch of pilgrims, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, takes the corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan's Army contradicted an offer made earlier by their Prime Minister Imran Khan that passports will not be required for Sikh devotees from India.

Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said passports will be needed, and there will be "no compromise on security or sovereignty". India had earlier asked the Pakistan government to clarify whether Khan's offer, which he posted on his official Twitter account, has been operationalised. On Thursday, New Delhi pointed to the "conflicting reports" from Pakistan and said they will go by the pact signed between the two countries last month - it says "passports" will be needed but not visa.

With the corridor opening Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs' official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar accused Pakistan of creating "confusion" at the "last moment". "Conflicting reports are coming from Pakistan. Sometimes they say passport is needed and sometimes they say it is not required. As of now, there is a bilateral agreement which specified required documents," he said.

Kumar also said that amendments to the MoU cannot be made "unilaterally". "Why this posturing, and why this last-minute afterthought by Pakistan?" the spokesperson said. Kumar also "condemned" Pakistan for "undermining" the spirit of the corridor by releasing videos and propaganda material depicting pro-Khalistan elements. "They should remove the video, and abide by the commitments given by them that no anti-India elements will be given space during the pilgrimage," the spokesperson said.

Earlier in the day, the volte-face by Pakistan on passports for Sikh pilgrims was reported in its domestic media. "As we have a security link, the entry would be a legal one under a permit on a passport-based identity. There will be no compromise on security or sovereignty," Dawn News quoted Hum News channel as saying.

On November 1, Khan, while announcing the completion of Kartarpur Corridor, had tweeted that he had waived two requirements relating to passport and registration 10 days in advance for Sikh pilgrims coming to Kartarpur from India.

He said that Sikh pilgrims from India would only need a valid ID to travel to Kartarpur. The service fee of US$ 20 for those coming for the inaugural ceremony and on the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru on November 12 was also abolished.

The MEA spokesperson, meanwhile, said that Pakistan is yet to confirm the list of Indian dignitaries who will attend the opening ceremony on the Pakistani side. "We are presuming that all names we have shared with Pakistani side for the inaugural jatha have been cleared," he said.

Apart from the former PM and his family, the list of about 150-160 dignitaries who will be part of the first batch of about 550 pilgrims includes Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her husband former Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, and several ministers, MPs and MLAs from Punjab.

According to the MEA spokesperson, Giani Harpreet Singh, the jathedar of Akal Takht, will lead the Indian delegation as the religious leader. Sources said Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu has been granted political clearance by the central government to travel to Kartarpur on Pakistan's invitation in November, sources said. Sidhu has already been granted visa by the Pakistan High Commission.