Pakistan readies for entry of Sikh pilgrims for Guru Nanak Dev's birthday

By Zia Ur Rehman


A Pakistani paramilitary soldier (right) and an Indian soldier (left) guard a construction site leading to the Sikh religious site Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur on September 16. [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP]

KARACHI -- The Pakistani government has taken several initiatives to facilitate the Sikh community's celebration of Guru Nanak Dev's 550th birth anniversary, scheduled for November 12.

One of the main initiatives is the opening of a new border crossing to allow Sikh pilgrims from India access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Punjab Province.

Despite continuing tense relations between the governments of Pakistan and India, both countries agreed to open the Kartarpur Corridor to Sikh pilgrims for the sake of interfaith harmony. Pakistan's remarkable progress over the past five years in reducing terrorism made it possible to contemplate such a large-scale, visa-free influx of pilgrims.

The Kartarpur Corridor is aimed at connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan to Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur District, India.


Sikh pilgrims on October 10 perform religious rituals on a special train enabling them to carry out the Nagar Kirtan religious procession en route from Karachi to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Prime Minister Imran Khan broke ground on the religious corridor last November. Each country is building the corridor portion on its own side of the border.

After months of negotiations, the two sides agreed in September that Indian pilgrims need only to obtain permits and carry their passports to visit the holy site, which was established in 1522 by Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak Dev.

At an international Sikh convention held September 2 in Lahore, Khan said the government will provide all efforts to facilitate pilgrims who visit Pakistan.

"It is not a favour; this was our duty," he said.

Though Pakistan has not fixed a date, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the Kartarpur Corridor on November 8, said Indian Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Pakistan will allow 5,000 Sikh visitors per day into the country through the corridor, according to media reports. It will also be the first visa-free corridor between the two neighbours since their independence in 1947.

Nagar Kirtan train procession

The Pakistani government has also arranged a special train for Sikh pilgrims to help them perform the Nagar Kirtan religious procession from Karachi to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

Nagar Kirtan is a Sikh custom involving the processional singing of hymns.

The main purpose of arranging the Nagar Kirtan train is to spread the message of harmony as Guru Nanak Dev did all his life, said Sardar Ramesh Singh, a leader of the Pakistan Sikh Council, an independent body working for the welfare of the community.

Guru Nanak Dev's teachings focused on equality, fraternity and a society free from class-based and other discrimination, he said.

"For the Sikh community across the world, the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev ji is a historic day," he said. "We are thankful to the federal government and Pakistan Railways officials for arranging a special train."

Posters depicting the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev decorated the train. Workers removed seats from one car and laid carpets to make space for prayers.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail bid farewell to hundreds of members of the Sikh community who were part of the Nagar Kirtan train procession departing from City Station Karachi on October 10.

More than 800 residents of various districts of Sindh Province, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Khairpur and Ghotki, joined the Nagar Kirtan procession, Singh said.

After visiting Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, the pilgrims returned on the Nagar Kirtan train on October 13.

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