Pakistan, India sign Sikh border crossing agreement

KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan and India on Thursday signed an agreement for opening of a key border crossing for Sikh pilgrims despite heightened tensions between the two nuclear rivals over Kashmir.

The signing ceremony was held near the Kartarpur border, where officials from both sides inked the much-publicized agreement, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will formally inaugurate the border crossing on Nov. 9 ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion.

Talking to reporters after the signing ceremony, Faisal said the agreement would allow visa-free travel of some 5,000 Sikh pilgrims to the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak every day.

“They were very difficult and tough negotiations. Negotiating with India because of the history we have, has never been easy. It’s never simple,” Faisal said.

In November last year, Islamabad and New Delhi had agreed to open Kartarpur crossing that connects Pakistan’s northeastern Narowal city to India’s eastern Gurdaspur district.

Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara situated in Narowal — some 115 kilometers (71 miles) from the provincial capital Lahore — is one of the most revered temple for the Sikh community as Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life there.

The distance between the temple and Gurdaspur is merely 3 kilometers (2 miles) but the closure of this crossing costs Sikh pilgrims from India to travel hundreds of kilometers, via Amritsar and Lahore, to reach here.

Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province is home to some of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs. They include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 in Nankana Saheb district, and Gurdwara (monastery) Punja sahib in Hasan Abdal town, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder.
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