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Building bridges: India & Pakistan agree on visa-free corridor for Sikh pilgrims

Building bridges: India & Pakistan agree on visa-free corridor for Sikh pilgrims
In a rare instance of cooperation, Islamabad and New Delhi have agreed on a visa-free corridor for Sikh pilgrims, providing them with access to one of their faith's holiest sites –the tomb of Guru Nanak – located in Pakistan.

Centuries old Sikhism was born in the northern region of India, Punjab. British colonialism took its toll on this monotheistic religion and even its downfall led to new problems for the Sikhs, as the historical region ended up divided between Pakistan and India in 1947.

Years of rivalry between the two countries made travel and pilgrimage to the holy sites of the divided region very difficult and, yet, now it seems Pakistan and India are close to fixing this dent in their bilateral relations.

On Thursday, Islamabad and New Delhi inked the Kartarpur Corridor deal – pilgrims will be able to travel visa-free to the tomb of Guru Nanak – the Sikh holy site located just four kilometers inside Pakistani territory. The corridor will be open for Indian nationals as well as for pilgrims from elsewhere who find themselves traveling through Indian territory.

The official opening of the corridor is expected to take place early in November, ahead of the guru’s 550th birthday. India has been calling for the creation of this corridor for years, yet recurring armed conflicts and mutual mistrust have prevented the proposal from being fleshed out.

However, New Delhi is contesting Islamabad’s plans to collect a $20 service fee from each pilgrim. Pakistan has already refurbished the shrine, expanded its grounds and built a bridge and a border checkpoint for future pilgrims.

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