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The corridor of peace

Filed on November 10, 2019

Pakistan PM Imran Khan, Navjot Singh Sidhu, and India's Union Cabinet minister of food processing industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal at the groundbreaking ceremony for Kartarpur Corridor in November 2018.
(PTI)

On October 24, India had signed an agreement with Pakistan on the modalities for operationalising Kartarpur Sahib corridor, paving the way for its inauguration ahead of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
(PTI)

The corridor will put an end to a 125-km-long journey that Sikhs from India have had to undertake until now to visit the holy site - the place where Guru Nanak Dev Ji, spent the last 18 years of his life

The opening of Kartarpur Corridor is a treasured moment for the Sikh community across the globe, and offers a rare opportunity for India and Pakistan to contemplate a future of peaceful co-existence and cooperation.

One thought that obviously flashes across the minds of all those who join the worldwide jubilations of the Sikh community could be whether the inauguration of the corridor signifies anything more than a just a passageway for pilgrims? Could this be a harbinger of a new era of peace between India and Pakistan - two nations that had, not in a distant past, shared a civilisation steeped in history and a uniform heritage and culture.

  Indeed, to all intents and purposes, it will not be an over expectation to posit that the cross-border corridor, linking two of the holiest shrines on Sikhism - the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan and Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India - will go down in history as a monumental path of peace, reconnecting minds of peoples of two neighbouring nations that had fought three wars since their independence in 1947.

While opinions and responses might vary on such postulations that this historic opportunity presages the prospects of an everlasting peace in the Subcontinent, one thing is certain, as one expert on international relations observed: "There couldn't be a more defining moment in aspiring for a new dawn in relations between those two powerful neighbours." 

It is also not irrational for all peace-lovers on both sides to remain upbeat that this unique occasion would help in normalising the strained relations that have taken a plunge in recent years.

The words of Navjot Singh Sidhu, the celebrity cricketer and Indian politician, resonate such optimistic thoughts. "We have waited too long for this to happen. It is a monumental step and could well prove to be a path of peace in the long run. I am so happy to be there for the historic occasion," Sidhu was widely quoted as he left for Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor in 2018.

Kartarpur Gurdwara, the second holiest site for Sikhism after Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Pakistan, which was built at the site where Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion was born, will not only epitomise a rare instance of cooperation between the two countries, but will also remain a beacon of hope for new round of peace dialogues between the two nations.

It is no less significant that the corridor - a dream come true for millions of Sikhs spread across the globe and an answer to their prayers - is becoming operational in time for celebrations of the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who died in the 16th century.

The corridor will put an end to a 125-kilometre-long journey that Sikhs from India have had to undertake until now to visit the holy site - the place where Guru Nanak Dev Ji, spent the last 18 years of his life. The corridor will also feature a bridge that will allow visitors to cross over the Ravi river, which flows between the international border and the shrine.

The Sikh community in India had long been appealing for access to the corridor. Previous Indian governments held preliminary discussions with Pakistan over access to the shrine. It was first discussed in 1998 and then again in 2004 and 2008, but these talks never led to anything concrete.

The move to construct the corridor gained momentum in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's prime minister at the time, met his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. However, all efforts were stalled after the Kargil war, which broke out between the two countries later that year.

While intermittent discussions to revive the project did not prove conclusive for many years, in September 2018 it got the final go-ahead when the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his government's intention to open the border near Kartarpur so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the gurdwara in Pakistan without a visa.

Following the landmark announcement, on November 26, 2018, the foundation stone of the corridor was laid in India. Two days later, Pakistan followed suit, sending a wave of excitement and hope among the world Sikh community.

In another noble gesture, Pakistan exempted the requirement of passport for the Sikhs crossing over to Kartarpur and waived the service fee of $20 for those arriving for the inaugural ceremony and to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji on November 12.

India and Pakistan have agreed that the corridor will be operational through the year and seven days a week.

The two countries also agreed that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine every day and that additional pilgrims will be allowed on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion of facilities by the Pakistani side.

The present shrine was built in 1925 after the original one was destroyed by floods. This was later restored by the Pakistani government in 2004. New amenities surrounding Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur include a courtyard, museum, library, dormitories, locker rooms, an immigration centre and an embankment to protect the temple in case of floods.

It is widely expected that the inauguration of this corridor to Gurdwara in Kartarpur by Prime Minister Imran Khan today will be a symbolic step towards ensuring regional peace and interfaith harmony in the subcontinent.

- issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com

author

Issac John

Editorial Director of Khaleej Times, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Khaleej Times. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.


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