What is Sikh pilgrim corridor to Pakistan?

The News

  • Pakistan may allow Sikh pilgrims a direct access to the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, next year.

 

Background

  • The Sikh community has been demanding a special corridor through the international border to the shrine that fell in Pakistan after the Partition.
  • There have long been demands from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and political leaders to build a corridor flanked by barbed wire to allow pilgrims to cross over into Pakistan to visit the Kartarpur Sahib shrine, and return the same day.
  • A bridge will need to be constructed over the Ravi, and there shall be no need for passports or visas.
  • The gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh jathas have been visiting the shrine regularly ever since.
  • This was one of the outcomes of the historic bus trip to Lahore by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeein February 1999, and there are no restrictions on visiting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib once a pilgrim has entered Pakistan on a valid visa.
  • Sikh jathas from India travel to Pakistan on four occasions every year — for Baisakhi, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev.
  • These Indian pilgrims are given access to all gurdwaras in Pakistan.
  • In 2010, India’s Punjab assembly passed a formal resolution in support of a ‘religious corridor’ from India to Pakistan to facilitate visa-free pilgrimages.
  • Most recently, the demand was placed before a Parliamentary Standing Committee that visited Dera Baba Nanak last year.

 

Highlights of the news

Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has claimed that Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has told him that Islamabad would open a corridor to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year.

  • Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu made the declaration in Islamabad at the oath-taking ceremony of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s Prime Minister.
  • Navjot Singh Sidhu said that the general made this gracious gesture on his own and also said that they want peace.

 

About Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur

  • The gurdwara at Kartarpur stands at the site of the final resting place of the first Sikh Guru, just across the border from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.
  • The gurdwara in Kartarpur stands on the bank of the Ravi, about 120 km northeast of Lahore.
  • It was here that Guru Nanak Dev Ji assembled a Sikh community and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.
  • The shrine is visible from the Indian side, as Pakistani authorities generally trim the elephant grass that would otherwise obstruct the view.
  • Indian Sikhs gather in large numbers for darshan from the Indian side, and binoculars are installed at Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak.

 

Significance of the move

  • The offer is a huge signal that New Delhi should welcome.
  • The historic gurdwara holds great significance for Sikhs as Guru Nanak Dev had spent the last 18 years of his life there.
  • The setting up of a corridor from the international border up to the gurdwara is expected to reduce bitterness among the two hostile nations. The corridor will also work as a peace point.
  • The government could win the goodwill of the Sikh community by agreeing to the demand.
  • As India and Pakistan celebrate 71 years of independence, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, is just one illustration of how Partition led not just to mass migration and personal tragedies, but also how communities were separated from their historic religious shrines.
  • Hence, The Guru’s 550th year celebrations provides a good opportunity for both the Pakistani and Indian governments to work together and set up a religious corridor, as requested by the Sikh community worldwide.
  • Joint seminars could also be held where scholars from both sides may discuss the relevance of Guru Nanak Devji’s philosophy not just in the context of Punjab and the Sikh community, but all of South Asia, which is afflicted by similar problems of poverty, and intolerance and militancy in the name of religion.

 

Concerns of the move

  • The corridor would bring Pakistan infrastructure right up to the Indian border.
  • Over the past year, Gurdwaras in Pakistan have been used for a pro-Khalistan campaign.
  • Earlier this year, a Gurdwara displayed posters and distributed pamphlets for the so-called “Sikh Referendum 2020”, and Pakistan denied permission to the Indian envoy and diplomats to visit it.
  • Pakistan’s intent also remains suspect, and Indian officials are wary of the corridor being misused by both state and non-state actors in that country.

 

Way forward

  • To begin with, India and Pakistan could allow Sikh pilgrims access to Kartarpur Sahib as well as other religious shrines to bridge the trust deficit between the two countries.
  • Cultural links between the people of both countries are currently largely restricted to movies, TV dramas, ghazal concerts and cricket.
  • In this scenario, the Sikh heritage of Pakistan (especially the legacy of Guru Nanak Dev) is an important component that can be captured as an opportunity.
  • The next step would be to start easing the visa process.
  • One of the reasons the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service has not been successful is because it is so difficult to secure a visa for the other side.
  • In this respect, setting up consulates in Amritsar and Lahore would be an important step.
  • Many believe that Guru Nanak Dev’s humanitarian philosophy can bring both countries closer and hence at this point, India and Pakistan should make a break from the past to grab this opportunity and avoid allowing other issues to take centre stage.

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