By Prarthana Mitra
Just a few weeks after efforts to revive talks between India and Pakistan failed, both nations announced a landmark decision on Thursday to build a corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims a smooth passage to Guru Nanak’s final resting place in Pakistan. India’s approval comes on the eve of Guru Nanak Jayanti, and a day after Pakistan media reported that the Imran Khan government would build a 2.5 km corridor leading to the iconic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur.
The Modi government reportedly approached Pakistan to develop the passage on its side leading up to the border near the gurdwara, to facilitate an unrestricted flow of devotees and “recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community”.
The corridor on the Indian side, to be built and developed as part of a centrally funded “integrated development project”, was cleared by the Cabinet ahead of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019.
Why purpose would the corridor serve?
According to reports, the project was tabled after Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa informed Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony earlier this year, of Islamabad’s longstanding plans to open a corridor to the shrine for Indian pilgrims.
The need for a corridor has always been at the fore, especially one that allows Indian pilgrims to visit the gurudwara and pay obeisance without visas. According to sources, India expects the corridor to be open throughout the year, without restrictions on the number of pilgrims travelling across the border. There must be free and readily available consular access for Indian citizens on the Pakistani side, stressed an official in the PMO.
The Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the border will have modern amenities and facilities, according to Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley further added that it would have visa and customs facilities for pilgrims.
Roadmap and reaction
President Ram Nath Kovind and Punjab chief minister CM Amarinder Singh are expected to lay the foundation stone of the corridor on November 26, PTI reported. “The move will facilitate lakhs of pilgrims desirous of visiting the Kartarpur gurdwara,” Singh told the press.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi tweeted that Prime Minister Imran Khan would break ground to inaugurate the work on the other side of the border, on November 28. “We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” he tweeted, hoping to open the Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year.
The centre’s announcement was hailed by all parties in Punjab, including Congress, AAP, and Shiromani Akali Dal, whose chief Sukhbir Badal termed it as “historic”.
Political and religious backdrop
The corridor not only serves as constructive outreach but is also the first formal contact between the rival nations, since New Delhi called off a meeting of the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September. In fact, Islamabad reported that the corridor was supposed to be a talking point at the meeting. The announcement also comes amid reports of a surge in pro-Khalistan groups in the West allegedly backed by Pakistan. That has only riven the two South Asian nations further.
Guru Nanak, who spent his life preaching universal brotherhood and peace, spent 18 years in Kartarpur. His mortal remains are also interred there, heightening the significance of this site for the Sikh community, especially in light of the grand celebrations for his 550th birth anniversary next year. The corridor can re-establish a link between two estranged nations that together house the world’s largest community of Sikhs united by their faith in the religion’s founding father.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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