Kartarpur Corridor – cbm, credit race or a trap?

Sunny Dua

There couldn’t be anything better than getting your prayers heard. Not even a single day rather moment passes when Sikhs around the globe don’t pray seeking free access to Gurdwaras that have been separated from them. Bloody partition of 1947 while had uprooted millions of people belonging to different religions and faiths, it had also forced them to leave their streets, homes, religious places, institutions, work places and families to which they were attached in newly created India and Pakistan. Many died waiting to see their own homes or taking care of other’s homes while many breathed their last praying for free access to Gurdwaras- both community and historic ones.
Today when both India and Pakistan have broken ice and made a beginning by opening Kartarpur Corridor for Sikhs to visit Gurdwara were first Sikh Guru Guru Nanak Dev Ji spent his last days, it’s a prayer well answered. Sikh prayer says, “Sree Nankaanaa Sahib tae hor Gurdvaareaan’, Gur’dhaamaan’ daejinhaan’ thon’ Panth noon’ vichhor-eaangeaahaee Khullhae darshandee-daara tae sevaa san-mbhaaldaadaan Khaalsajee noon’ bakhsho”. (Almighty Lord! Our helper and protector ever, restore to us the right and privilege of unhindered and free service and access to Nankana Sahib and other centers of Sikh religion from which we have been separated.
This Gurdwara is also important for Sikhs as there located is a Samadhi where Hindus cremated half Chadder and flowers (remains) and a Grave where Muslims buried half Chadder and flowers (remains) of Guru Nanak Dev Ji as per their traditions. Visiting this Gurdwara,that was left in Pakistan because of Cyril Radcliffe line, for Sikhs is a blessing. Earlier they earlier used to travel up to Lahore and then again travel 140 Kilometers ahead to reach North Eastern city of Narowal for paying obeisance.
Confidence Building Measure (CBM)
This initiative could be treated as one of the biggest ever Confidence Building Measure (CBM) for the simple reason that while the move has fulfilled one of many desires of Sikh’s wish-list, it has also enabled neighbour nations break ice. Since past over four years nothing was moving on in between two nations on any front. Travel, trade, sports, art, culture and everything else had taken a back seat rather come to a standstill. In a way Pakistan was isolated and trying to gain some foothold to make a beginning on any positive note. This corridor became the reason for it to make some advances.
By announcing and then laying foundation stones on either sides of the fence for opening Kartarpur corridor giving visa free access to Sikhs right up to Gurdwara Sahib in Pakistan where Guru Nanak Dev Ji had spent last eighteen years of his life, both neighboring countries have moved a step forward. Until now Sikhs were made to travel to Lahore through Wagah border and then had to take a detour to reach Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib which was also out of bounds for pilgrims for quite a long time until it was thrown open for pilgrims only recently.
This could be treated as one best CBMs for the reason that Karavan-e-Aman bus service and trade through Uri and Chaka-Da-Bagh always was subject to situations when peace persisted. Besides that a Delhi-Lahore bus service was also ferrying people but everywhere a permit or visa was a prerequisite to travel to Pakistan. Now that millions of Sikh pilgrims while will wait for their turn to visit Nankana Sahib or Panja Sahib through proper channel, this makeshift arrangement in the shape of a dedicated corridor will provide them visa free access to one of the many Gurdwaras separated from them since partition.
Late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2002 had convinced Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his party chief Sonia Gandhi to carry forward their predecessor Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pak Premier Nawaz Sharief’s proposal to open travel route between Uri and Muzaffarabad. That was one of the several CBMs in pipeline which was finally agreed upon and formal bus service launched in presence of entire government and not a few chosen ones as has been done while opening this corridor.
Credit Race
Now that Kartarpur Corridor has been thrown open for pilgrims a race to take credit has started. Beginning from politicians, governments, civil societies and Gurdwara committees everyone is in fray but the only name that’s missing in the list is that of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) president late Sardar Sham Singh who breathed his last in 2016. There are about 172 Sikh shrines in Pakistan and only a few were accessible to pilgrims. It was Sham Singh’s efforts that many shrines including GurdwaraKartarpurwere thrown open for pilgrims but the access route to these sites was from Lahore only.
Sham Singh is today also remembered for facelift of Gurdwaras in Pakistan that attracted pilgrims from around the globe. It was his efforts that Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Gurdwara Bebe Nanaki, Gurdwara Janam Asthan Guru Ram Dass and others were declared open for pilgrims. However, he found no mention of his name anywhere in this rush-rush programme that has its origin in just a travel of Sidhu to Pakistan to attend his cricketer friend’s swearing in ceremony where a hint to open corridor was dropped by Pakistan army chief.
Navjot Singh Sidhu, minister of local Government, tourism, cultural affairs and museums of state of Punjab was the first to stake claim that his hug with Pakistan Army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his being a cricketer and close friend of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan worked. Simultaneously, India claimed that it was its consistent efforts that paid the dividend and to prove that two Sikh union ministers Hardeep Singh Puri and Harsimrat Kaur Badal- making Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as partners in this development were also sent to attend the ground breaking ceremony.
Their participation however was symbolic and kind of semi-official. Since Government had no intention to what it called ‘attending events of a hostile nation’, it preferred to dispatch Puri and Badal to attend more of a religious function than any political or social event agreed upon between two nations well beforehand. While on the other side of fence Prime Minister, Imran Khan believed that had Pakistan not agreed to such a proposal things would have remained in limbo and back home in India civil society members believed that had they not kept the issue alive this development would not have taken place.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) – an organisation that manages Gurdwaras in India was of the opinion that its letters made this happen. While SAD praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for fulfilling a demand of the Sikhs, Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh believes that his letters did wonders though he didn’t deem it fit to travel to Pakistan till it stops aiding and abetting terrorism from its ground. Other claimants to the development are Gurdwara Kartarpur Darshan Abhilashi Sanstha set up by late Akali Leader Jathedar Kuldip Singh Wadala and Sangat Langah Kartarpur, led by BS Goraya.
Trap?
Way back in April 2005 a bus service between Uri (India) and Muzaffarabad (Pakistan) was started. The proposal was mooted during the regime of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and matured during the time when Dr Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. The event, like Kartarpur Corridor, was also mega but was well attended by Dr Manmohan Singh, All India Congress Committee (AICC) chief Sonia Gandhi, Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Despite a no from PM NarendraModi, union foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh and even AICC chief Rahul Gandhi if Sidhu still preferred to surpass them and visit Pakistan its nothing short of a trap and like jumping the gun.
Knowingly that this was more of a religious event than political, where was the need for Pakistan to raise Kashmir issue, mention it being a Nuclear power, instigate Sidhu to contest and win from Pakistan or become PM of India and not care to even mention Indian premier in speeches. To top this, some persons wanted by India were allegedly made to have an access to Sidhu. Pakistan was desperate to break ice and for it there couldn’t have been any better event than this but since such activities and speeches came to the foreground instead of spelling future programs on this corridor, people on either sides of the fence have been left with many unanswered questions.
It is also said that if Sidhu,as he claims, can convince Imran Khan to open borders he can also tell him to close terror camps. However, in none of his speeches or interviews he ever mentioned such a desire from Indian side while Pakistan didn’t care for his presence and spelled out all controversial subjects leaving audiences guessing about the purpose of event. This corridor is also being seen through the prism a different prism. Why would a hostile nation whose hands are in blood of 26/11 innocents, massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpura, Anantnag -Kashmir or killing of Charanjit Singh, a prominent Sikh voice in Peshawar adopt a soft approach and that too for a community while there are several Hindu and Jain temples of importance lying unattended in Pakistan.
Now that Union Government, Union Cabinet has approved the construction of a road from Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab to the India-Pakistan International Border giving access to pilgrims to reach Shakargarh in Narowal district of Punjab province in Pakistan to mark 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Sikhs’ prayers stand answered. Segregating it from political affairs, this is a beginning in right direction especially when it comes to having access to Gurdwaras in Pakistan.
The move of Imran Khan and his intentions which are also being hailed by many has on the other hand raised hopes of several other people as well. While a number of Pakistanis are seeking free access to Dargahs and Ziyarats in Delhi or intend to visit Chamblayal in Ramgarh sector of Samba, people in Jammu want Jammu-Sialkot route to be opened from Suchetgarh. Every year India sends Sharbat (Water) and Shakker (Soil) in tractor trollies from Chamblayal to Pakistan side to satisfy followers of Baba Chamblayal. Earlier Pakistanis were allowed to come right up to the shrine but ever since tensions between two nations escalated the practice was discontinued.
Similarly talks of opening routes from Ladakh region or giving free access to pilgrims to Sharda Peeth are also making rounds. Hussainiwalla border is another link that people want to be opened.In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Pathankot attack and many similar attempts of infiltration India-Pakistan relations had gone downhill and it is hoped that this Corridor will bridge some prerequisite gaps that could become basis for dawning peace in sub-continent. I conclude with last lines of Sikh Ardas, ‘Nanak Naamcharh’deekalaa, T’araebhaanaesarbattdaabhalaa
(Through Satguru Nanak, may Your Name be exalted and
may all of mankind prosper according to your Will.)
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