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Kartarpur Corridor : Bonhomie or Trust Deficit

So, Kartarpur corridor is set to become the highway from India to the historic Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Narowal district of Pakistan marking the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev which is observed on 12 November.

Darbar Sahib is the world’s largest Gurdwara; this most revered Sikh shrine is just four and a half kilometres from the border. The first Sikh Guru lived there before he finally left for his heavenly abode in 1539. Kartarpur corridor connects Dera Baba Nanak (Gurdaspur district in India) with the Darbar Sahib.

As per the agreement, Indian pilgrims of all faiths and persons of Indian origin settled abroad with valid OCI card can use the corridor. The registration for the pilgrimage has already begun at the online portal prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in and pilgrims will be informed well in time for the travel with an Electronic Travel Authorization issued in their name, which they will have to carry. They will have to return the same day.

Pilgrims will have to pay a fee of 20 US dollars which Pakistan did not waive off despite India’s repeated insistence on grounds of honouring religious and spiritual sentiments of the pilgrims. India had taken up this issue at the diplomatic level as well as during the several meetings with Pakistani officials held to finalize the modalities but Islamabad refused to give this concession.

India and Pakistan do not have tourist exchange programme but under a Protocol on Visits to Religious Places signed in 1974, they allow visits to identified religious shrines, issuing a special visa for the purpose. The must visits for Hindu and Sikhs in Pakistan are Gurudwaras Nankana Sahib (near Lahore), Panja Sahib (Hassanabdal, Rawalpindi), Katasraj Dham (a complex of Hindu temples dating back to Mahabharata period) and the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Lahore) besides Kartarpur Gurudwara. For Pakistanis, Ajmer Sharif Dargah (Rajasthan), Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah (Delhi) and Kalyar Sharif (near Haridwar) are amongst the must visit itinerary.

There is no gain saying the fact that the opening of Kartarpur corridor is eagerly awaited; it has been a long standing desire, nay demand of millions of ardent devotees in India. The border restrictions for a smooth visit to the Karambhoomi of Baba Nanak have been relaxed but not to the desired extent. This has left some very pertinent questions; this step is seen in isolation and not as a means towards achieving a thaw in bilateral relations. Mistrust is therefore unlikely to disappear, more so as Pakistan continues to be in an overdrive over its Kashmir offensive at the international level, and is working overtime at the ground level to rekindle militant activities in the Kashmir valley to keep the pot boiling.

The catch of blatant mistrust lies in one of the important provisions in the Kartarpur agreement signed on 24 October 2019. It says “a robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims.” Ground realities and past experience, however, speak contrary to it as despite all such tall claims, Pakistan has more often than not tried to sneak into religious gatherings/congregations elements who openly put up Khalistani posters to vitiate minds of the pilgrims under the garb of spiritualism.

During the process of finalization of the Kartarpur corridor agreement, India raised its concern at every meeting over the possibility of Khalistani protagonists creating disharmony and indulging in anti-India propaganda. Pro Khalistani Sikh leader Gopal Singh Chawla and a few others were involved in the Kartarpur construction process. India objected to their presence and even boycotted the very second official dialogue scheduled for 29 March 29. Pakistan came down, and removed them the Kartarpur Committee constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan. And this enable resumption of dialogue towards end April.

The 45-day multi-entry visa Pakistan has agreed to issue to non-resident Indian Sikhs (living in the United States, Canada, UK, Australia and other countries) has the inherent potential for misuse by pro-Khalistani elements who are active in outfits like Sikhs for Justice, SFJ (which has just been added to the list of banned organisations in Punjab), Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Liberation Force, Khalistan Commando Force, International Sikh Youth Federation and all their manifestations. Some such elements might try to infiltrate and mingle with the devotees visiting Gurudwara Darbar Sahib during the 550th birth anniversary celebrations. Put simply, Kartarpur corridor is wrapped in all things eerie even as it opens the gates to divine bliss.

For the immediate though the focus is on programmes to make the 550th birth anniversary celebrations a grand success. Nagar Keertans and religious processions are organised to spread the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev. Both India and Pakistan are issuing commemorative coins to mark the occasion.

– By R C Saldi