Build upon Kartarpur

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/13/2019 12:21:01 PM

Opening of Kartarpur corridor brings moment of transcendence which can be used for building a bilateral healthy relationship

Inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor on November 9, 2019, three days before the 'Prakash Utsav' has been a dream in the making for seven decades for millions of Sikhs worldwide. This day will go down in the history of the Indian sub-continent on which two countries managed to put aside the distrust and hostilities to jointly facilitate a pilgrimage for a small religious minority in India. After India and Pakistan's Partition with an arbitrary line drawn through Punjab, the placement of Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak spent his last years, meant that while a majority of his devotees were left on one side of the border, his last resting place was left just four kilometres on the other side. Unlike the other major Sikh shrine at Guru Nanak's birthplace Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur Sahib was off Pakistan's highways and therefore fell into disuse. Those keen to see it were restricted to seeing through binoculars at a border check post. Inauguration of the renovated shrine in Kartarpur by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the access to the corridor from Sultanpur Lodhi on the Indian side by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saw the fervent hopes of all those people being granted, timed with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur has been a part of the hopes and prayers of three generations of Sikhs, separated by partition from many of their most important places of worship. The shrine, built at the site where Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith, is 4 km from Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side, and on a clear day, can be spotted through the bulrushes on the banks of the Ravi. Until September 2018, when Pakistan and India agreed that a visa-free 'Kartarpur Corridor' from Dera Baba Nanak be fast tracked in time for Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary, a visit to Kartarpur Sahib for believers on the Indian side meant viewing the gurdwara through binoculars only. Since then, both sides have defied history and an extraordinary year of hostility in their relations, to give shape to the corridor and the prayers of millions of people on both sides and abroad.
As agreed between the two countries, about 5,000 pilgrims are expected to access the visa-free corridor every day of the anniversary year. It will be the largest sustained daily cross-border visa-free movement of people. In any other place, this would have been evidence of friendly ties, not deep suspicion between two countries. Not surprisingly, as this is about India and Pakistan, there has been talk on the Indian side, for instance, about Pakistan's intent to destabilise Punjab - Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has made such allegations with regularity. Yet, in the end, the nay-sayers were not loud or persistent enough to put a spoke in the wheel, and Amarinder Singh himself was in the first batch of visitors to the shrine along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This brings into focus, the importance of the corridor for India, and for Punjab. India and Pakistan are living an unprecedented moment in their history. Even so, comparisons with the fall of the Berlin Wall, exactly 30 years ago, are overblown. That was the day the world changed as two countries created from one put the past resolutely behind them and reunited with a shared vision and goals. India and Pakistan are not in a quest for unification. Just being normal and neighbourly will not only do good but also improve the relations between them and their peoples. It will require statesmanship of a high order for the Kartarpur Corridor to lead to something more than a pilgrimage between the two countries. Apart from this, this corridor also provides an opportunity for building upon a sustainable and positive relationship between the two countries in the interest of peace and stability in the South Asian region.



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