Located across river Ravi in Pakistan, barely six kilometers away from Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur, Punjab (India), is Kartarpur Sahib. The glorious white building is one of Sikh community’s most sacred sites.
On November 26th, 2018, the foundation stone was laid in Gurdaspur, marking the initiation of Kartarpur corridor. The date two days later, November 28th, has been finalized by Pakistan to lay down the foundation stone on the other side of the border.
The talks of Kartarpur corridor have been on and off for years now, with the final declarations being seen as key to Indo-Pak relations. So, what is it all about?
What makes Kartarpur Sahib so special?
Distinctly visible from Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab, Kartarpur Sahib has a rich history of nearly 500 years. It is said to have been established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev, the Sikh Guru. It was here that he drew his last breath, spending the last 18 years of his life. During this time, he assembled a Sikh community in the area.
The current building of Kartarpur Sahib was built by Sardar Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala. However, destructed, it remained closed for the public up until its restoration by Pakistan authorities in 1999. Guru Nanak Dev being a holy figure to both Muslims and Sikhs, Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur has become a shrine for the two communities.
All about the corridor
Spanning across a length of about 6 km, 2 km from the Indian side of the border, Kartarpur corridor will help thousands of devotees visit the sacred shrine. Here are the key factors:
a. A bridge over river Ravi has been proposed as part of the corridor.
b. Using the corridor, Indian devotees will be able to reach Kartarpur Sahib without any requirement for passports or visas.
c. The Indian side of the corridor will stretch between Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, Punjab to the International Border.
d. In Pakistan, the corridor will cover the distance between the border and Kartarpur Sahib, putting the total length at roughly 6 km.
Talks between the two nations
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has been putting forth demands for the corridor for many years now. However, an official demand for the first time was made by the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. Representatives of both the countries, namely Vajpayee and Benazir Bhutto made efforts for the corridor.
The bitter relations between India and Pakistan over the last decade prevented the making of this corridor. In 2017, a parliamentary standing committee announced that the corridor will not be built, given the tensed climate between the two countries. Instead, an idea for installing four high-definition binoculars in Gurdaspur was put forward.
In August 2018, Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister from Punjab was invited to the oath-taking ceremony of the Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan. His presence in the ceremony has since then been criticised by several BJP leaders, especially his infamous hug with the Pak army chief.
Sidhu claimed that the army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa assured him that the corridor will be opened before the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru in 2019.
The ongoing tug of war
In September 2018, Pakistan declared that it will open up the corridor for Indian devotees before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, eliminating the need for visas. The move was welcomed by members of the Sikh community from around the world, with Sidhu personally thanking Imran Khan.
In November 2018, the government of India officially approved construction of the corridor, in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. “The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year”, said Home Minister, Rajnath Singh.
Both the countries are now making covert efforts to establish that they initiated the process first. The foundation stone, being laid in India on 26th November, and in Pakistan on 28th has also become a matter of competitive pursuits. Cabinet Minister from Punjab, Rajinder Singh Bawa has claimed that the Centre has alleged that the ceremony was a ‘step taken in a hurry’ only to get ahead of Khan’s ceremony two days later. According to Bawa, the National Highway Authority of India is not even acquainted with the entire layout of the corridor.
A hope for peace?
Keeping aside the tussle, the most crucial question is- will the corridor act as a key to bettering the relationship between the two nations? India and Pakistan have had several falling outs in the previous few years.
The Kartarpur corridor has been demanded by both the sides for decades now, with faithful devotees conducting darshans of Kartarpur Sahib from Gurdaspur in India. Having a direct link to their shrine, that too without the hassles of passports and visas will certainly prove to be a big relief to the Sikh community. Moreover, the corridor will act as a major boost to the people to people relationships of the two countries.
Sufis in Pakistan have expressed wishes to visit the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Kashmiri Pandits of going to Sharda Peeth in Neelum Valley of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and so on. With the opening of Kartarpur corridor, a new hope has been raised in the hearts of these communities. More importantly, faith and religion winning over the otherwise tensed political relations will send out as a crucial message to both the countries: that hope still prevails. And, peace is not as distant a dream as we believe.