Kartarpur Corridor Opening

Introduction :

Kartarpur is small town located in tehsil Shakargarh of Narowal District, Punjab, Pakistan. It is very close to Pakistan-India international border. The town saw some fighting around it during Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. It was established by founder of Sikh religion Baba Guru Nanak in 1522. The population of town is predominantly Muslims. The ethnic groups include Gujjars, Rajputs and Jatts. The minority Hindus and Sikhs of town migrated to India after the partition of India while some Muslim refugees from India settled in Kartarpur. The town hosts a holy Sikh Gurdwara. Opening of Kartarpur corridor between Indian and Pakistan has been an old desire of Sikh community.

Gurdwara Kartarpur

Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib

Kartarpur hosts Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, the first ever Sikh Gurdwara. The Gurdwara is built on the location where Guru Nanak reportedly died on September 22, 1539. Guru Nanak settled in the area after his missionary travels and assembled a Sikh community. He lived there for the last 18 years of his life. Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib is located within a distance of 4.7 kilometers from Pakistan-Indian border. It is visible from Indian side of border where Indian Sikhs often gather to perform darshan (a sacred viewing of the site).

The Gurdwara in its present form was built by Maharaj of Patiala, Sardar Bhupindar Singh. The building was repaired by Pakistani Government in 1995. It was fully restored in 2004. The building is located close to Ravi River. In May 2017, a US based NGO EcoSikh proposed setting up a sacred forest around the shrine.

Proposal for Visa-Free Access

Since the Gurdwara is located very close to border, Sikh communities living on both sides have been urging Indian and Pakistani governments to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit shrine visa-free. Sikhs proposed to build a bridge from the border to the Gurdwara. The proposal was first discussed during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in 1999. Pakistani agreed to the proposal in year 2000 which was welcomed by Sikhs.

In May 2017, an Indian parliamentary standing committee declined the proposal due to poor state of Indian-Pakistan relations. However, Indian government offered to install four binoculars in Dera Baba Nanak located close to border for Sikhs to perform darshan.

Kartarpur Corridore – Recent Development

Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan was elected prime minister in August 2018. Indian cricketer and politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was invited to the oath taking ceremony.  In a historical moment, Sidhu received a hug from Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. This friendly gesture won hearts of peace loving people living on both sides of border. Sidhu faced criticism from hostile Indian hardliners for receiving the hug. They even called him a traitor.

Gen. Bajwa Hugs Sidhu

Sidhu claimed that General Bajwa had assured him that Kartarpur corridor would be opened before 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. Pakistani government confirmed to open Kartarpur corridor in November 2018. Subsequently, Indian also approved the development of corridor from holy shrine of Dera Baba Nanak (located in Gurdaspur District, Indian Punjab) to the border. So the corridor will connect two holy shrines of Sikhs, one on each side of the border. This will facilitate Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartatpur Sahi visa-free.

Kartarpur Corridor

Vice President of India, Venkajah Naidu laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Mann Village of Gurdaspur District on November 26, 2018.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Kartarpur village on November 26, 2018. The event was graced by General Bajwa, Fawad Chaudhry, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hardeep Singh Puri and Gurjeet Singh Aujla. Adressing the ceremony, Imran Khan said that he saw similar happiness on the faces of Sikh pilgrims like Muslims feel when they reach Makkah or Madina.

Reactions

  • Sikh Community : The move to build the corridor was welcomed by Sikhs living across the globe. They termed Kartarpur corridor as ‘Corridor of Peace’ between India and Pakistan.
  • Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi compared the establishment of Kartarpur Corridor to the fall of Berlin Wall. He said that the project will help easing tension between two countries.
  • Navjot Singh Sidhu said that the corridor will connect the hearts of people. He added that opening of corridor will be written in golden words in history.
  • Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said that India wanted to open Kartarpur and she was happy that Pakistan responded positively. She added that Kartarpur opening cannot be sole path to resumption of bilateral dialogue. She said that talks can start after Pakistan stops terror activities in India.
  • PML (N) politician Uzma Bukhari said that opening of the corridor was a result of ‘Jadu ki Japhi’ referring to the hug between General Bajwa and Sidhu. She added that Imran Khan did not have prior knowledge of corridor opening. She said that previous PML(N) governments also wanted to open the corridor.
  • Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari appreciated the decision to open Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims. He recalled that Benazir Bhutto had first proposed the idea of visa-free corridor a quarter century ago.
  • ANP chief Asfandaryar Wali Khan said that opening of corridor would improve bilateral trade and tourism in the region. He said that one person should not take all the credit for the establishment of Kartarpur corridor because former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had also made efforts in this regard. He added that Pakistani government should also open Pakistan-Afghan border to facilitate the moment of pashtuns.
  • United States : State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said ““I understand that it is kind of a visa-free way for Indians to visit this important Sikh site. And of course, the United States would welcome efforts to increase people-to-people ties between Pakistan and India,”
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