The people of India and Pakistan witnessed a ‘miracle’ few days ago. They have high hopes from the development on Kartarpur Corridor. Indian pilgrims will be able to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, hopefully, without visa. It is a rare sign of co-operation between two arch rivals. The Kartarpur Corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur in Indian Punjab with Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab. There is a high hope that it will turn into a ‘road of peace’ between two countries.
It happened in a dramatic way. Such a gesture is beyond imagination, especially in case of India and Pakistan. This will be the first visa-free border crossing between two nuclear weapon states. It will be operational next year. The relations between two countries are so low that it is virtually impossible for Indians to get visa for Pakistan and vice versa. The visas are city specific and normally its police reporting. In such a scenario, visa-free entry gives hope.
Imran Khan, Pakistan PM, said on Thursday, on the occasion of historic ground breaking ceremony that if Germany and France can live peacefully after World War II, why not India and Pakistan. In the same ceremony, India’s Minister Harsimrat Badal said, ”If the Berlin wall can fall, then the mistrust between two neighbourly countries, India and Pakistan, can also be removed through revisiting the message of peace and love spread by Guru Nanak.”
The philosophy of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism, can surely remove the hatred as he worked for communal amity and peace. Guru Nanak was respected equally by Muslims and Hindus. India and Pakistan agreed to work on the corridor keeping in mind, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year. Kartarpur is only four km away from the international border in Narowal district of Pakistan. Guru Nanak breathed his last here in 1539. The shrine, on the bank of river Ravi, is important for the Sikhs. Now, Indian Sikhs are paying tribute to Guru Nanak by viewing the gurudwara from the International Border through a set of binoculars.
Under the 1974 India-Pakistan Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, Indian Sikhs and Hindus can visit various gurudwaras and temples in Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs can visit various shrines in India. Fifteen shrines in Pakistan and five in India are notified under this protocol. Under the protocol, pilgrims can visit only in groups. Kartarpur shrine was not in the list but the Sikh community was always hopeful. The protocol has to be now amended or some bilateral agreement has to be signed on Kartarpur.
The Kartarpur Corridor got momentum with Navjot Singh Sidhu’s Pakistan visit, in August, for the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan as Prime Minister. He hugged Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. He was criticised for his ‘act’ at home. But, he clarified that he hugged because General Bajwa assured him of opening of Kartarpur shrine to the Indians. Now, within couple of months, it has become a reality. Both the countries are gearing up for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The traffic on the corridor will be one way in the sense it will be used by Indians to go to Kartarpur. As the corridor will be covered, the pilgrims will not be able to go outside. Pakistan is planning to set up restaurants, shops and hotels in the corridor.
On the Indian side, a ground breaking ceremony was performed by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal on November 26. Two days later, Imran Khan did ground breaking ceremony on their side. Two Union ministers and Sidhu attended the function. Many Indian journalists also went to Pakistan to cover the event. Capt Amarinder refused to go to Pakistan blaming Pakistan for terrorism.
This development, unfortunately, does not mean resumption of dialogue; said India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. India has communicated to Pakistan that it will not attend South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit planned to be held in Pakistan. India’s non-participation mean SAARC summit cannot be held.
The decision of Kartarpur Corridor is a major step but one needs to also go beyond it. The earlier gestures failed but it does not mean we should not give peace more chance. The peace process needs to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The gesture of Kartarpur Corridor must be followed up with more confidence building measures (CBMs).
The Kartarpur Corridor has an potential to turn South Asia a better place to live in.