In a major initiative last November, India and Pakistan agreed to set up the Kartarpur Corridor. Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the Ravi River, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India. It is that holy place where the first master of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, settled down after his Udasis (Spiritual Tours) and stayed for 18 years. The Guru left his physical form in this place.
Kartarpur Sahib, quite naturally, is a very important place of pilgrimage for the worldwide Sikh community. Since partition of the country in 1947, such pilgrimage and visit to the Gurudwara located there has been denied to the Sikhs due to inimical relations between India and Pakistan. The thaw came by in November last year and now work is in progress to open up a corridor and facilitate the pilgrimage. This enlightened thought process came in the wake of the 550th birthday of the Guru that falls in November this year. Recent inputs suggest that the corridor will be opened on November, 09.
India and Pakistan has been holding delegation level talks to work out the modalities for the visit of Sikh pilgrims. Three such meetings as also technical meetings by domain experts have been held. It was expected that the agreement will be signed in the third meeting held on September, 04. The final approval could not be reached due to two main issues. Pakistan said that it would levy a Visa Fee of 20 USD on each visitor and Pakistan also did not agree on the Indian proposal of sending protocol officers with the groups.
So many tense moments have been experienced in the interim as the relations between the two countries went on a downwards spiral mainly due to Kashmir. Prominent reasons have been the terrorist attack at Pulwama Kashmir followed by the India riposte of aerial attack on a terrorist facility deep in Pakistani territory at Balakot. In the last one month or so things have further deteriorated due to the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories by the Indian Government which has sent shock waves in Pakistan. The matter continues to remain a huge bone of contention with the threat potential going beyond a conventional military conflict to a nuclear face-off.
Sikhs from cross the world are fervently praying for this project to go through. The fact that it has not fallen flat despite the breakdown of relations between the countries is being seen as a divine intervention. When seen logically, it points towards the universal respect and reverence that exists for Guru Nanak Dev Ji that is transcending all hurdles and problems.
While the tension prevails, the initiative is being looked upon as a one point intervention that is holding back the two countries from precipitate action. It is instrumental in avoiding escalation to all out and open conflict that could possibly lead to terrible destruction and loss of life. It is also widely believed that should the relations between the two countries break down in totality then the Kartarpur project will be the last to be discarded and also the first to be resumed when the reconciliation phase is put in place.
It is in the backdrop of the aforementioned manifestation that the significance of the Kartarpur Corridor needs to be understood. It is a spiritual connect that is ensuring harmony at a time when peace seems to be poised to become the biggest casualty.
The Visa Fee that Pakistan is insisting upon and which is being subjected to political and bureaucratic manoeuvring is a non-issue for the Sikh community. It is quite improbable that there would be any Sikh who would not have the means or the will to pay the Visa Fee; even if there are some, the community has a capacity to make collection and pay for them. Money will not be allowed to come in the way of the religious aspiration of the entire community. Pakistan is well within its rights to apply the Visa Fee and should not be pressured to remove the same. In time the country will understand what small benefit it is getting from the same in the context of the larger economic picture. The Sikhs have a potential to solve all economic woes of the beleaguered nation as a whole and not just fill the coffers of the impoverished Government of Pakistan. This larger picture will strike home with time
So far as the protocol officers are concerned, their requirement has been listed by the Government of India for facilitating the smooth conduct of the pilgrimage. They are supposed to act as a conduit between the authorities of the two Nations to ensure smooth day to day conduct of the proceedings and especially during emergencies. If Pakistan is confident of meeting all administrative requirements and emergencies then there is no need for such a liaison mechanism. There is no language problem here that could complicate things.
The best option for both countries would be to shed all kinds of distrust, at least in the context of this very spiritual and holy initiative and move forward with an open mind. Both nations should appreciate the magnanimity being shown by each other and give to it wholesome approbation. In the domain of conflict and its attendant diplomacy there may not be any other example in the world of the manner in which things are progressing with respect to the Kartarpur Corridor despite the existing level of animosity between the two nations.
The message of peace and amity propagated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji five and a half centuries back with the intention of breaking dogma and giving humanity all importance is gaining centre stage yet again. All of this could not have happened without the intervention of some supernatural power. It seems that the great Guru is among us all the time.