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Kartapur Corridor Agreement Is An Opportunity To Achieve Peaceful Indo-Pak Ties

As the 550th anniversary of the birth of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji approaches, Pakistan is poised to offer a tribute to that great sage and founder of the Sikh faith. On Thursday, the 24th of October 2019, Pakistan and India signed the Kartarpur Corridor agreement at the Narowal border between the two countries.

This agreement will provide access to pilgrims from India to a very holy site – the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, located in Narowal district of Punjab in Pakistan. The Gurdwara, described by some as the world’s largest, dates back to the 16th century and is believed to have been built at the spot where Baba Guru Nanak settled down to organize the nascent Sikh community. It also happens to be the place where he died, on the 22nd of September 1539. The present-day building at the site was built under the auspices of the Maharaja of Patiala in 1925 – having been repaired and fully restored by Pakistani authorities over a period from 1995 to 2004.

The celebrations for the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak are to be held from the 7th to the 15th of November, and the Kartarpur Corridor will open to the public on the 10th – just in time for the birth anniversary itself, on the 12th.

As part of the agreement, Indian pilgrims will not need a visa to make the 4-km journey from the Indian side of the border to the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib site – which has been equipped with new amenities for visitors.

There has been controversy from some quarters in India over the $20 service charge to be levied on each pilgrim by Pakistani authorities – which is slated to bring the country some significant foreign exchange. However, it would have been unwise for either side to hold such an important agreement hostage to the issue of service charges. Fortunately, the process of finalizing the agreement has been completed.

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The first and most obvious benefit of the Corridor agreement is the fact that devout Sikh pilgrims from India will now have access to this vital site. They would no longer have to view the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib from the Indian side of the border with powerful binoculars, as has been the case up till now. In all the India-Pakistan tension, we forget that the land we live on was not always as violently divided as it has been since 1947. There are many important holy sites for Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan and there are many shrines of veneration and devotion for Muslims in India. The land of Punjab itself – the larger chunk of which is on the Pakistani side – holds both religious and historical significance for Sikhs. Access across borders, even for sacred purposes, has been difficult throughout the troubled history of the two independent countries.

It is hoped that the Kartarpur Corridor can begin to start a process of lifting restrictions on pilgrimage and religious tourism.

Another impact that this agreement will hopefully have will be the possibility for populations on both sides to see each other in a new light – as nearby neighbours rather than eternal enemies. People-to-people contact and familiarization of populations with each other is often first to be attacked by anti-peace lobbies on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. There is a good reason for this! Warmongers know that their agenda can never be accomplished without pigeonholing populations in their own cultural, religious and nationalistic cages.

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However, with all of that said, one unfortunate aspect merits a brief mention at the very least. While the Kartarpur Corridor opening will represent a more pleasant moment in an otherwise bleak era for India-Pakistan relations, it will also be an essentially Pakistani initiative without commensurate Indian reciprocation – at least for the foreseeable future. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration continues to give secondary importance to all bilateral engagement, until it achieves its elusive aims on security and strategic matters, it would be squandering yet another opening for diplomacy and engagement.

Perhaps a fitting way to further honour Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji would be to take the opportunity provided by the Kararpur Corridor agreement to achieve more lasting ties of peace and love on the land where he was born and where he taught his message of human dignity and communal harmony.

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