Amidst strained relations and heightened tension between India and Pakistan after August 5, 2019 post abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Pakistan has announced opening of much awaited Kartarpur corridor on November 9, 2019. The proposed corridor will provide visa free direct access to Indian pilgrims and devotees from Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to Darbar sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a facebook post clarified that in spite of the lowest phase of relations between the two countries, Kartarpur cooridor will be operationalised as scheduled to commemorate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism on November 12, 2019 and said “Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to public on November 9, 2019.” He further added that “the world’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the World. This will become a major religious hub for the Sikh community, and will boost the local economy, result in earning foreign exchange for the country creating jobs in different sectors including travel and hospitality.”
A Glance in the History
The first Guru of Shikism faith Shri Guru Nanak Mahraj founded the Kartarpur in 1504 on the right bank of Ravi River for the people from all walks of life having common interest, values and beliefs. Mausoleums built after his death was washed away due to change of course of Ravi River and new habitation came up on the left bank of the river, the present day Dera Baba Nanak. The issue started post partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 where Kartarpur was awarded to Pakistan and Dera Baba Nanak fell in Indian Territory, with the understanding that Indian Sikhs can, informally visit Kartarpur using existing bridge over Ravi River, which was destroyed during 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
Long Outstanding Demand of Sikhs
The Akali Dal had, first raised the issue and urged the Government of India to acquire the land of the Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur, to which Government was not very optimistic of a positive response from Pakistan as well as reluctant for any change in Radcliffe line. However, Indira Gandhi, Prime minister of India in 1969 on 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, promised for land swap to make Kartarpur as part of India but unfortunately that also did not materialized. Pakistan also refused to include Kartarpur in the “Protocol of 1974 and its update in 2005 on visits to religious shrines.” The ice was finally broken during the period of prime ministers Atal Bihari Bajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, when both the leaders discussed the opening of Kartarpur gurdwara for viewing from Indian side. General Musharaff given go ahead for construction of Kartarpur corridor post Kargil war in view to earn some goodwill of India and finally in November 2018, India and Pakistan had agreed to set up the border crossing linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur to Dera Baba Nanak.
Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan known for his U Turns, at the last moment has put a condition of levying a service fee of $20 from pilgrim for every visit, to which India flagged its objection and expressed “disappointment” over Islamabad’s insistence on service fee. However inspite of reluctance to do away with service fee by Pakistan, India has agreed to sign the agreement on the corridor and said, “In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalisation of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12,2019 the government on Monday conveyed that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday.” It is to be seen as to how far this initiative will to go to bring down the temperature between the two nations.
22 Oct 19/Tuesday Written by Fayaz