Cor­ri­dor of hope: Kar­tarpur

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

The an­nounce­ment by Pak­istan and In­dia of plans to op­er­a­tionalise a visa-free cor­ri­dor be­tween Dera Baba Nanak in In­dian Pun­jab and Kar­tarpur Sahib in Pak­istan's Pun­jab is a re­ply a long­stand­ing plea of Sikh pil­grims.

The de­mand for open­ing of this cor­ri­dor had gath­ered pace in 1995, when Pak­istan ren­o­vated the Kar­tarpur gur­d­wara, si­t­u­ated on the site on the bank of the Ravi where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, spent his last 18 years. Lead­ers from both sides, in­clud­ing then Prime Min­is­ters Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee and Be­nazir Bhutto, had pushed for it. In their ef­fort to fa­cil­i­tate travel by Sikhs to im­por­tant shrines on both sides of the bor­der, they were also alert to the po­ten­tial of such a move to heal ties amongst their peo­ple, and pro­mote di­a­logue be­tween the two gov­ern­ments.

Given its easy lo­gis­tics, the 4-KM-long Kar­tarpur cor­ri­dor is a low-hang­ing fruit as a mean­ing­ful con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sure. The an­nounce­ment now is par­tic­u­larly timely, with the 550th birth an­niver­sary of Guru Nanak fall­ing in Novem­ber 2019. The ini­tia­tive can also be­come a tem­plate for cross-bor­der ex­changes based on faith, which could pro­vide a balm for many com­mu­ni­ties such as Kash­miri Pan­dits, who have long asked for ac­cess to visit the Sharda Peeth in the Neelum Val­ley in Kash­mir; Su­fis in Pak­istan who wish to visit the dar­gah of Kh­waja Moin­ud­din Chishti in Ajmer, Ra­jasthan; and Sikhs in In­dia and Pak­istan want­ing to visit im­por­tant shrines on both sides of the bor­der. Sim­i­larly there are many Hin­dus who want to vis­its Katas Raj Tem­ple in Jehlum.

Much will de­pend on how quickly In­dia and Pak­istan act on their com­mit­ment, once Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind lays the foun­da­tion stone at the cor­ri­dor's In­dia end on Novem­ber 26, and Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan does so at the other end on Novem­ber 28. Even more will de­pend on how the two gov­ern­ments man­age their re­la­tion­ship in a way that avoids mak­ing pil­grims a pawn in bi­lat­eral ten­sions.

Re­cently, there was an ugly and un­nec­es­sary con­tro­versy when Pak­istan Army Chief Qamar Javed Ba­jwa re­vived the Kar­tarpur pro­posal in a con­ver­sa­tion with Navjot Singh Sidhu, a Min­is­ter in the Con­gress govern­ment in Pun­jab, at Mr. Khan's swear­ing-in cer­e­mony in Au­gust. This had set back bi­lat­eral ties, threat­en­ing progress on the pro­ject pro­posal. Go­ing for­ward, it is im­por­tant that is­sues re­lated to the cor­ri­dor are man­aged in a non-po­lit­i­cal man­ner and de­tails left to diplo­mats and of­fi­cials to sort out - for in­stance, the is­sue of In­dian con­sular ac­cess to pil­grims, which flared up on Fri­day. Given the bi­lat­eral freeze, the Kar­tarpur pro­ject will com­pel In­dia and Pak­istan to en­gage in a pos­i­tive and pur­pose­ful man­ner, at a time when few other av­enues for en­gage­ment ex­ist.

It is a re­minder that di­a­logue and search for ar­eas of con­cord are the only way for­ward for both coun­tries. It is also im­por­tant that both coun­tries be vigil to any mis­cre­ant at­tack on ei­ther side which can de­rail the en­tire im­i­ta­tive in no time. So now both coun­tries should be care­ful that not ter­ror in­ci­dent may hi­jack the friendly en­vi­ron­ment.

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