Kartarpur Corridor: an Oasis South Asia Needs

Kartarpur Corridor, Darbar Sahib Baba Guru Nanak

Whatever kind of seed is sown in a field, prepared in due season, a plant of that same kind, marked with the peculiar qualities of the seed, springs up in it

Baba Guru Nanak

This was said by the founder of Sikhism Baba Guru Nanak Ji. This saying was manifested in its true essence and spirit by Pakistan when it opened the Kartarpur corridor in an attempt to sow seeds of peace and harmony in the region.

Kartarpur Corridor, also known as the “corridor of peace” is a 2.5 mile stretch across the Pakistan-India border which connects the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal, Pakistan with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur, India. The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is the second holiest site for Sikhs as Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life here before departing from this world in 1539.

The creation of a corridor was an old demand of the Sikhs since partition of the sub-continent in 1947 which placed the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on the Pakistani side of the international border. This demand and dream (as stated by Sikh pilgrims visiting the shrine) was finally realised by Pakistan in November this year.

Although the corridor was first proposed in 1999 but could not be constructed due to tense relations between Pakistan and India. The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib was reconstructed by the government of Pakistan in 2004 after it was destroyed by seasonal floods that year. It was not until November 2018, when the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan inaugurated the project of Darbar Sahib’s construction and vowed to open the corridor for Sikh pilgrims within a year.

Construction of the corridor commenced on both sides of the border after officials from Pakistan and India finalised the technical and logistical details of the project. Officials from both countries met again on October 24, 2019 at Zero Point on the international border and signed an agreement formally operationalizing the corridor.

The Kartarpur Corridor was finally inaugurated by Pakistani Premier Mr. Imran Khan on the historic day of November 09, 2019 and welcomed the first group of Sikh pilgrims from India and around the world. The speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan at the inauguration to the Sikh community (which was watched across the globe) will go down in history as one of the most honest and moving messages of love and peace. A message which was aptly reciprocated in his heart-warming and a moving speech by Indian cricketer turned politician Mr. Navjot Singh Sidhu.

The inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor could not have come at a more appropriate time than to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Ji on November 12, 2019. The festivities and celebrations continued in full fervour from the day of the inauguration (November 09) till the day of the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism (November 12). The celebrations were attended by Sikh pilgrims and devotees from all across the world including Canada, Europe and most importantly India. Former Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh was also in attendance along with the Chief Minister of Indian Punjab Mr. Amarinder Singh.

Kartarpur Corridor will ensure visa-free entry for the pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. For the purpose of identification, the pilgrims will only be required to carry a passport or any other official form of identification. On the inauguration day of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Premier Imran Khan waived the 10-day prior registration condition for Sikh pilgrims as well. Moreover, the entry fee of $20 (per pilgrim) that will be charged each day was also waived off for all pilgrims on the inauguration day and on the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Ji.

Besides having political benefits for South Asia, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor will not only pave way for religious and cultural tourism but will also increase people-to-people contact between Pakistan and India and will open new vistas for revenue generation for Pakistan. The corridor will be open throughout the year (365 days) and each day 5,000 pilgrims will be able to pass through the corridor. More visitors will be able to pass through the corridor on special days as well.

The entry fee of US$ 20 per pilgrim will generate an amount of US$ 100,000 each day which will amount to US$ 36.5 million per year. Opening of this corridor has eased the access to the world’s largest Gurdwara and will make this region a major religious hub for the Sikhs of the world. This will help in boosting local economy and improve Pakistan’s soft image internationally.

Opening of the Kartarpur Corridor will definitely have a positive impact on Pakistan’s tourism industry and will help in earning foreign exchange for the country besides creating job opportunities for people in different sectors such as travel, hospitality, and cottage industry.

As mentioned earlier, the timing of the inauguration was most appropriate because tensions between Pakistan and India are at all-time high, especially after the Pulwama attack and revocation of Article 370 by India on August 05, 2019 stripping the Indian Occupied Kashmir’s (IOK) special status. Kartarpur Corridor is yet another attempt by Pakistan and especially Prime Minister Imran Khan for improving relations with India in a bid to normalise relations and help peace and stability return to South Asia.

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The Indian leadership should also capitalise on this opportunity and start reciprocating Pakistan’s continued gestures of goodwill rather than mistaking them for appeasement and becoming arrogant. The region has already been suffering from the continued animosity between Pakistan and India which has not only hampered the progress of this densely populated region but has also resulted in the loss of countless precious lives.

It is high time for both countries to adhere to Baba Guru Nanak’s teaching of peace and harmony and promote interfaith harmony which will ensure durable and long lasting peace and stability in South Asia which is needed now more than ever.

About the Author: Mr. Muhammad Taimur Fahad Khan is a freelance journalist. He holds an M. Phil Degree in International Relations from  National Defence University, Islamabad. He wrote many research articles, Policy Briefs, Issue Briefs, Book Reviews and Monographs on topics related to International Relations. He is currently serving as Research and Media Officer at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Reader’s Review.

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