The Hindu Explains: From Alexander Zverev to Kartarpur corridor

What does Kartarpur signify for India-Pakistan ties?

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What is it?

In a year, if all goes to plan, the dusty roads leading to the Kartarpur shrine in Pakistani Punjab’s Narowal province will be transformed into a bustling network of tourists and pilgrims. In this town by the river Ravi, the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, spent his last 18 years. After 1947, Sikhs in India lost access to it. While larger groups of pilgrims travel to Nanak’s birthplace Nankana Sahib, where he began preaching, very few have been able to visit the more remotely positioned shrine just four kilometres from the border with India. At present, the journey from the closest town of Dera Baba Nanak takes over 200 km on a circuitous route through the Wagah/Attari border. In the last 70 years, several Indian governments and countless delegations from the Sikh community have appealed to the Pakistani government to open access for them directly over the border from Dera Baba Nanak, by building a “pilgrim corridor.” It wasn’t until August this year, when Pakistan’s Army chief General Bajwa went up to the Congress leader and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu at the swearing-in of Prime Minister Imran Khan and told him that the proposal was being considered, that India received the first official assurance on the issue. India has also committed to building its end of a two-kilometre four-lane highway corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the border. The plan is to complete the project by November 23, 2019, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

How did it come about?

The anniversary is the most obvious reason for fast-tracking the project. But other questions are legitimately being raised about Pakistan’s decision, which was first conveyed by its military leadership, not the political one, to accept the request from India for the corridor. Security officials have pointed to an uptick in Sikh separatist violence fuelled by terror groups in Punjab, and the appearance of organisations and posters in Gurdwaras in Pakistan that call for a “referendum” in 2020 on a separate state of Khalistan to question whether the move has a hidden motive to radicalise pilgrims. On the Indian side, the Central government’s desire to cater to a major domestic constituency, and its alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, has added to its alacrity in responding to Pakistan. Despite vowing not to engage with Islamabad until “terror ends,” it sent two senior Ministers to attend the ground-breaking ceremony by Mr. Khan at Kartarpur this week.

Why does it matter?

In a relationship where ties have always progressed at a glacial pace, and often face reverses, the Kartarpur corridor initiative has moved rapidly since August. On the Pakistan side, a full proposal has already been made, including an expressway that will take pilgrims by bus from the border to the shrine.

What lies ahead?

The project is unique for several reasons. Human corridors of this sort are normally used for emergency situations: refugees fleeing violence or humanitarian disasters. Secondly, the corridor will come up at a time when few avenues for India-Pakistan relations exist. In the past few years, not only has all official dialogue ceased but other exchanges by actors, artists, authors, academics, media and musicians have all but ended. Religious pilgrimages by Sikhs and Hindus to shrines in Pakistan and by Muslims to Sufi shrines in India see a reduced number of visas, and the corridor will be an exception where large numbers will be able to travel visa-free, according to the current plan. Many logistics will have to be finalised once officials on both sides meet. Finally, the corridor of peace, as it has been termed by leaders on both sides, stands apart for its potential to further other such exchanges, as well as in promoting dialogue between the two neighbours. For the moment, the Kartarpur initiative itself will be a major marker for both governments to accomplish in the next year, and the realisation of a dream for so many, for so many decades.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 3:14:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-does-kartarpur-signify-for-india-pakistan-ties/article25643529.ece

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