Bonanza of Peace
Both India and Pakistan have set aside their differences to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
For Sikhs, all roads lead to Kartarpur Corridor, which goes to the Indo-Pak border in Dera Baba Nanak and from there it runs to the final resting place of Guru Nanak in Narowal district of Pakistan.
Approximately the 9-km corridor is not just a stretch of an ordinary piece of road. It is an answer to the Ardas of Sikhs who have patiently struggled for access to the shrines of Guru Nanak founder of Sikh religion which due to partition are on the other side of the border.
This Kartarpur Corridor is also one the rare gestures of peace in the history of the two warring countries who fought three wars after independence and are fully armed with nuclear arsenal.
Both sides set aside their differences to build the Kartarpur Corridor to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the messenger of "Universal Brotherhood" despite hostile relations.
This corridor is vital as the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is one of the holiest places for the Sikhs around the world. It's believed to have been built on the site in Pakistan's Narowal district where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, died in the 16th Century.
Earlier Sikh pilgrims often found it difficult to visit this shrine due to various travel restrictions. Some have had to be contented with viewing it through binoculars from India. The corridor will connect Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Gurdaspur district.
The proposal for the corridor has been on the table since 1988, but tense relations between the two countries led to the delay. Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also suggested the corridor when he took a historic bus trip to Lahore in 1999.
To lay the foundation stone of this corridor it was a race among both warring neighbours. On November 26, 2018, Vice-President M. Venkiah Naidu and the Chief Minister of Indian state of Punjab, Amarinder Singh laid the foundation stone of the "Corridor" in India's Gurdaspur district. Whereas, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the long-awaited corridor that been announced as a peace initiative on November 28, 2018.
During the construction of the corridor competitive nationalism was on full display along the corridor, the Pakistanis unfurled their flag on a 200-foot high pole, whereas the India's Tricolor is hosted on a 300-feet pole which has push button mechanism.
The Pakistani side was actively flooding social media with videos showing the Kartarpur shrine with its newly built ponds and gardens, along with the biggest 'Khanda' (a symbol of Sikh faith) in the world near the shrine.
However, 'Ek Onkar', the symbol of one god and oneness which Guru Nanak propagated, did not find place on either of the border. Whereas, visitors at the recently constructed BSF watch tower in Dera Baba Nanak to see the Kartarpur shrine through a telescope is on the rise.
The opening of this corridor will allow visa-free access to pilgrims from India. Throughout the year, 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdawara every day as individuals or in groups.
India raised the demand to allow 10,000 additional pilgrims to visit the Gurdwara on special occasions, and also requested Consular services at the shrine to provide assistance the Indian pilgrims if required.
Naturally, India has also raised its concerns over the security aspect, urging Pakistan to prevent Khalistan supporters from misusing this historic initiative.
Interestingly for both sides completing this project in time before the grand finale of 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak was of vital importance.
Guru Nanak was the messenger of Peace. He propagated "Universal Brotherhood" and his followers have enthusiastically welcomed this historical decision of opening of Kartarpur Corridor, which will promote peace and harmony between the nuclear neighbours.
Heads of both countries compared the construction of the corridor to the fall of "Berlin Wall", which means both countries have realised the importance of co-existence than no existence.
Located on the banks of Ravi river, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is among the holiest shrines for Sikhs. It was built to commemorate the site where Guru Nanak settled after lifetime travel propagating Oneness of God, universal brotherhood, gender equality and diversity for 18 years until his death in 1539.
It is believed to be the final resting place of Guru Nanak who was born on April 15, 1469, at Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi in Pakistan's Shekhupura district.
The shrine was closed to people coming from across India's border after the partition in 1947. Interestingly earlier Pakistani authorities cleared the tall grass from time to time, enabling the devotees from India to view the shrine with the help of a telescope.
The gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh jathas have been visiting the shrine regularly ever since.
Opening of Kartarpur corridor holds religious significance to millions of Sikhs pilgrims who have waited patiently for more than 70 years for this dream to come true.
"Kartarnomics" - All religious place world wide are interlinked with sources of income for the local, regional and national economy. Similarly, opening of Kartarpur corridor would also yield huge revenues for Pakistan.
Islamabad will be charging $20 (roughly PRS 1400) from every Sikh devotee visiting Pakistan. This means by levying the entry fees, Pakistan will be earning revenue of more than $100,000 per day as it has agreed to allow 5,000 pilgrims to crossover to Narowal district in Pakistan's Punjab.
Thus, monthly revenue of $3,000,000 will fill into its treasury. And if Pakistan approves to allow 10,000 pilgrims from India on special occasions means additional income.
In the opinion of some businessmen, after the planned inauguration, Pakistan may permit local business houses to open Duty Free Malls for pilgrims, which may bring additional revenues to the country.
In fact, the Kartarpur Corridor is attracting much attention of international observers and investors who see it as a 'unique experiment' at a time when Indo-Pak ties are at their lowest.
The Pakistan government is hoping to turn the grand cross-border project into a cultural and religious tourism for the country. The authorities with the help of experts are brainstorming ideas on how to reap maximum economic benefit from the Kartarpur Corridor and are planning to promote religious tourism as per global standards.
The government realised that their country has huge potential of tourism. Government has plans to restore and rehabilitate the birthplace of Nankana Sahib, Darbar Sahib Narowal, Punjab Sahib Hasanabdal, Rori Sahib Gujranwala, Sucha Soda Sheikhupura, Dera Sahib Lahore and other religious spots in the province over the next five years.
To facilitate easy travel the government recently announced visa-on-arrival policy for residents of the UK, Malaysia, Turkey, and 70 other countries.
The walls of Dera Baba Nanak are covered with the Guru's philophy of "Naam japo, kirt karo and vand chhako (Remember the Almighty, work hard and share the fruits of your labour)". Ironically very few believe and practice in reality which is questionable.
The "Punjabi hug" created turmoil in Indo-Pak political circles, however it accelerated the process of building Kartarpur Corridor which both sides wanted to gift the followers of Guru Nanak on his 550th birth anniversary.
- Gurdeep Singh Kundan is the Secretary General of Global Sikh Council Switzerland
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