“Gurcharan Singh, a 75 years old was happy to visit the Sikh temple in the Pakistani village of Kartarpur. “Pakistan and India have a “protocol on visits to Religious Shrines” signed back in 1974, the protocol allows the citizens of both countries to visit the religious sites in each others countries. The recent development wherein, the Sikh community has been facilitated to visit their religious shrine in Pakistan is a good will gesture. It is reflective of a balanced approach towards other peoples faiths. Professor Dr. Kalyan Singh said that the desire to visit the holiest places would be fulfilled.
The religious sites linked to the life of Guru Nanak in Pakistan are the ‘Gurdwara Janam Asthan’, ‘Gurdwara Panja Sahib’ and ‘Gurdwara Darbar Kartarpur Sahib’. The ‘Kartarpur Corridor’ will link the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib (Narowal, Pakistan) with Dera Baba Nanak shrine (Gurdaspur district). The inauguration ceremony of the corridor will be held on 9 November, ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, and the corridor will be operational by November 11. It will be the first visa free route between Pakistan and India. The Sikh pilgrims from Gurdaspur, India via corridor will travel 3 kilometers to reach the temple.
The South Asian politics are viewed in terms of India-Pakistan tense ties and lack of cooperation among the regional countries. Pakistan-India relations are on the lowest ebb since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took over. The bilateral dialogue between the two sides have been suspended. The regional environment has impacted the domestic mindset of people, the people often seem to be disillusioned with the idea of cooperation and interaction.
On the regional front, issues like terrorism have further widened the divide. Developments like the upcoming China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Pakistan and India membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) depict positive trends but the regional connectivity, and trade cooperation seem to be a challenge amidst the regional differences. There have been instances where efforts are being undertaken to sabotage the development work of CPEC and arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav from Balochistan is a proof of it. The recent revocation of Article 370 by India, and the ongoing human rights violations in occupied Jammu and Kashmir have heightened the security environment.
In this backdrop, the opening of ‘Kartarpur Corridor’, despite the tense political environment speaks of an innovative step undertaken to facilitate a religious minority and to move forward towards building a region of peace and harmony. It may seem an idealistic approach, but to have peace and to deter the inimical forces, soft approaches need to be heralded. The political differences should not overpower the peoples right to live, neither should fall prey to adversarial designs. Instead, the focus should be on human security and strengthening of moderate forces.
The vacuum created due to the political stalemate provides ground to extremist elements to furnish their agenda, and to exploit the religious and cultural sentiment to their advantage. Thereby, to counter the transnational challenges and to change the unbalanced mindset, there is a need to give up short sightedness and open up towards cooperation. The corridor signifies the importance of religious freedom and how it can serve the purpose of peace.
The people have suffered due to the regional disputes. The Kartarpur corridor has given a message of peace; the political differences should not come at the helm of humanity, and the importance of developing fruitful links. The success of Kartarpur corridor should be seen as religious freedom, and it should further lead to opening up of other spiritual sites like Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty in Ajmer and Nizamuddin Auliya dargah in New Delhi.
A version of article appeared in Daily Times, October 30, 2019
[Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not reflect the policy of the Institute]