Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagha railway station to attend the birth anniversary of their spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak, in Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.
Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagha railway station to attend the birth anniversary of their spiritual leader Baba Guru Nanak, in Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018.

ISLAMABAD - South Asian arch rivals India and Pakistan have agreed to establish a new cross-border corridor to enable religious devotees from India's minority Sikh community to visit a historic holy temple on the Pakistani side.

Analysts said the gesture to build the entry point could help lower long-running border tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Thursday his government has already conveyed to New Delhi the decision to open the proposed Kartarpur Corridor for the 550th anniversary celebrations next year of the birth of Guru Nanak, the Sikhism founder.

"We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion," Qureshi tweeted. He announced Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay the foundation stone next Wednesday to begin construction on the Pakistani side.

Qureshi's statement came hours after India announced it had decided to build and develop its side of the corridor on the International border.

The Indian Foreign Ministry, in a letter delivered through the Pakistani diplomatic mission in New Delhi, said the government has "approached and urged" Pakistan "to recognize the sentiments of the Sikh community" and construct the Kartarpur Corridor with "suitable facilities" to facilitate visits of pilgrims from India.

The proposed border corridor aims to connect the Sikh Holy shrine at Dera Baba Nanak in India to the Kartarpur Gurdwara (temple) in the Pakistani town of Narowal. It is barely three kilometers from the border with India and considered to be the first gurdwara ever built. The place of worship is also known to be the final resting place of the Sikhism founder.

Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said India's "endorsement" of his government's proposition on building the corridor is a "victory" of the peace lobby in both countries. He noted that it is a step in the right direction, adding, "We hope such steps will encourage voice of reasons and tranquility on both sides of the border."

Kartarpur Gurdwara is visible on clear days from a viewing stage on the Indian side, where religious devotees gather every day to have a glimpse of it.

Earlier this week, India's government announced plans to install a high-powered telescope to enable Sikh devotees to view Kartarpur Gurdwara in Pakistan to coincide with the anniversary of Guru Nanak's birth.

India and Pakistan's independence's from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province where Sikhism was born. The two countries have since fought three wars and mutual tensions often hamper pilgrims' plans in terms of getting visas to visit the shrine. Two of those wars have been over the disputed Kashmir region, which remains at the center of tensions.

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