Will Sharda Peeth temple opening thaw India-Pakistan relations? Let’s wait and see

On Monday, March 25, the Pakistani government said it will open the Sharda Peeth temple in Pakistan-administered Kashmir for pilgrims. This is the second religious corridor between the two countries—the Kartarpur corridor is the first.

The Express Tribune, a Pakistani news source, reported that the Ministry of External Affairs in India has already made a proposal to Pakistan to open the Sharda Peeth temple.

Now, Dr Ramesh Kumar of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, will visit the site and submit a proposal to the government.

Kumar told Express Tribune, “Pakistan has decided to open the Sharda Peeth temple. I am going to visit the place in a couple of days. I will also send a report in this regard to Prime Minister Imran Khan.”

The Sharda Peeth temple will undergo some work this year; after that, Hindu pilgrims will be allowed to visit.

There hasn’t been any official dialogue between India and Pakistan on this yet. But the Pakistani government has been communicating with its country’s journalists.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti said she had asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ask Pakistan to open the Sharda Peeth temple.

“An initiative like this at a time when Indo-Pak tensions are at an all-time high could help navigate the current impasse,” she said.

Another religious corridor

The Sharda Peeth temple is one of the oldest places of worship for Hindus. It was built during the rule of Ashoka 5,000 years ago. The Madomati pond near the temple is also considered sacred.

The temple is located in Sharda, a village in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. However, it is an important passageway for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley.

The above map shows the location of Sharda Peeth beyond the LoC. The Martand Sun Temple and Amarnath temple on the Indian side of the Line of Control are also sacred places for Hindus in Kashmir.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Express Tribune, “After Kartarpur, a piece of big news is in the offing for Hindus.”

Read more: Kartarpur and what it may mean for India-Pakistan ties

The Kartarpur corridor connects the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal District to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur District. Both locations are in the countries’ respective states of Punjab.

The four-kilometre-long Kartarpur religious corridor came into existence in 2018; soon, Sikh pilgrims will be able to use it, visa-free, to visit two of their most revered places of worship.

Indo-Pak tensions easing?

Pakistan’s gestures of restoring religious corridors for India’s Sikh and Hindu communities is indicative of the country’s desire to ease tensions with India.

In February, Indo-Pak relations were immensely strained following the devastating Pulwama attack; a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide bomber blew up a bus from the Central Reserve Police Force convoy, killing 40 jawans.

Recently, India and Pakistan engaged in aerial combat, escalating friction.

The two countries also used diplomatic means to put pressure on the other—meeting with diplomats like the Saudi Prince, making comments at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and debating JeM Chief Masood Azhar’s blacklisting at the United Nations Security Council.

Now, India and Pakistan seem to have eased their military aggression against the other and are returning to the diplomatic status quo.

PM Modi even wished PM Khan on Pakistan’s national day prior to the latter announcing the opening of the Sharda Peeth temple.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius