Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
In its first significant attempt to cement relationship with India, the newly-installed Pakistan government has expressed its willingness to allow Sikh pilgrims from India a visa-free access to the historic Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara on the occasion of the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November.
In an interview with BBC Urdu, Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said “a system was being developed for Sikhs” to facilitate their visit to the gurudwara.
“Pakistan will soon open the border at Kartarpur for Sikh pilgrims and the pilgrims will be able to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur without visas,” Mr Chaudhry told the BBC.
“A road will be constructed for the pilgrims to enter. They will then have to purchase a ticket to go back.”
The hint was initially dropped by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his brief encounter with Punjab state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu when he visited Islamabad in August last month to attend the swearing-in ceremony of his “friend” Imran Khan, the newly-elected prime minister of the country.
Reacting to Mr Chaudhary’s statement, the excitable Mr Sidhu applauded the “noble goodwill gesture” of the Pakistan government saying “there couldn’t be a bigger happiness for the people of Punjab.”
"I will be part of the first lot of pilgrimage if I am allowed. My friend Imran Khan has made my life successful. He separated politics from religion,'' asserted Mr Sidhu.
While no official order has been released by Pakistan or received by India, Mr Sidhu, however, claimed that Islamabad would soon call upon Delhi with a confirmation to this effect.
In the meanwhile, to keep the pot boiling, Mr Sidhu has written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pleading her to reciprocate the “noble gesture.”
“The opening of this corridor will be a huge thing for the Sikh community all over the world. Even though both neighbours have had sour relations for decades but the corridor if opened can bring peace and prosperity between the two countries," Mr Sidhu wrote in the letter.
Over the past two decades, Sikh organisations have called for visa-free access to the gurudwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district, where the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev, spent his last few years with his followers.
In 2010, the then Punjab Assembly had passed a resolution in support of a ‘religious corridor’ from India to Pakistan to allow access to the shrine located just three kilometers away from the India-Pakistan border, but the plan never saw the light of the day.
Whether the corridor will be opened remains to be seen, Pakistan government’s willingness to consider the request itself has generated a lot of positive interest among the members of the Sikh community across the globe, many of whom took to twitter to express their sentiments.