Opening Kartarpur Corridor: A Boon or Bane?
| Mallika Chugh - 27 Nov 2018

Opening Kartarpur Corridor: A Boon or Bane?

By Mallika Chugh

The meticulous opening of Kartarpur Corridor is vigorously being hailed as an important milestone towards peace. This corridor will provide a visa-free access to Indian devotees to visit Kartarpur Sahib which is just 2 km inside Pakistan in Narowal dist.

Acknowledging the common origin shared by India and Pakistan, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday (Nov 26, 2018) said the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a bridge between two countries that have "so much in common". "This is a bridge between two countries that have so much in common. It opens new doors, a path that opens new possibilities," the Vice President said while addressing the gathering at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the corridor at Amritsar. He also stated that the demand for setting up the corridor is over two decade old.

This place is apotheosised by the Sikhs as Guru Nanak not only spent the fag end of his earthly journey here, but he also breathed last at this venerated place. There are many religious shrines located both in India and Pakistan which are traditionally revered by the devotees of the two countries. Pilgrims are allowed to visit such places according to a 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, but visas are inevitably required. The Kartarpur Corridor, which will provide a visa-free access from India, is, however, a complete new bargain.

The fact remains that the Kartarpur passage which links Dera Baba Nanak town in Gurdaspur to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan is a 4km stretch, 2km on either side of the border. Now, the area around Gurdaspur, not only houses theTibri Cantonment but is also close to Pathankot. The neighbouring Pathankot dist, on one hand, encompasses the Mamun Cantt that boasts of the biggest ammunition dump, and on the other hand is home to the Airforce base which witnessed a big terrorist attack in the recent past. This strategic hitch always came in way of our leaders to step forward.

However, the chill in the relations with our close neighbours had to be thawed and this time it has been done with the expression of warmth by both the countries. While PM Modi has compared the move to a breaking of the Berlin Wall, even the former PM from the opposition Party, Manmohan Singh has welcomed the move.

The idea that is being spit shined today as an all-new step towards peace has been veritably considered before Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu could even visit Pakistan. Although he is definitely leading the charge this time, but if we further dig the details the concept dates back to 1980 when Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, the former Gurdaspur MP and Union Minister first came in power. She vigorously made efforts for the cause soon after her election and then again picked the old cudgels in 1992 and then in 2005 as a Rajya Sabha member.

Mr Vinod Khanna, Minister of State for External Affairs in 2004, also prepared a  detailed blueprint of the project and proposed it  to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime Minister of India, but the PMO had then shot down this proposal after consulting the defence stalwarts as the Kargil debacle was fresh in the memory. There after right from 2009 to 2014, Pratap singh Bajwa has been raising the issue many times.

Things took another turn once all chirrupy Navjot Singh Sidhu returned from New Pakistani PM Imran Khan's swearing in function to report that General Qamar Javed Bajwa had disclosed to him that Pakistan too was keen to open the passageway for the event of the 550th birth commemoration ceremony of Guru Nanak. At the Centre, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj ticked off Sidhu for "politicizing" the issue. The BJP's partner in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal, likewise vented against Sidhu, with Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal blaming him for being a "manikin" of Pakistan. However, the cat was let out of the bag this time. In spite of the lurking security concerns everyone concerned is led into the giant step towards “Peace”. India started the cabinet level discussions on the issue and the decision in affirmative was taken a day before Guru Nanaks birth celebrations.

The statement from Ministry of External Affairs stated, "In keeping with the resolution adopted by the Cabinet today to commemorate the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji in 2019, we have approached and urged the Pakistan government to recognize the sentiments of the Sikh community and build a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory to facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year. The government of India has already decided to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the International Border with all modern amenities on our side."

Close to the Cabinet decision being declared, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted that the Pakistan government "has just passed on to India its choice to open Kartarpur Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak's 550th birth commemoration", and that Prime Minister Imran Khan would complete a ground breaking function for the passageway on November 28. An Invitation was also extended to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for the same. Mean while Indian side has claimed that President Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will establish the framework stone for the proposed passage two days sooner, on November 26. It appears that both sides are effectively, and intensely, guaranteeing responsibility for a move that is a major jump forward for their citizens.

Even as Congress, SAD and the BJP spar over credit for opening up of the Kartarpur corridor, the outspoken BJP leader Subramanian Swamy dubbed the situation as “dangerous” citing security concerns over the movement of people from Pakistan in the corridor. Swamy said merely checking the passport is not enough as the same can be procured from Chandni Chowk in Delhi for as little as Rs 250.

“Kartarpur corridor is a dangerous move, can be misused as there are no proper checks, just showing passport not enough. You can get a passport in Chandni Chowk for Rs 250. People should register 6 months in advance, and we should not allow people from Pakistan to come here,” Swamy said to ANI.

He advocated “proper checks like advance applications and then verifying antecedents”. He advocated a complete ban on people from Pakistan in the corridor.

Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu's decision to visit Pakistan for the ground-breaking ceremony of Kartarpur Sahib corridor has not pleased his bossAmarinder Singh, who turned down Islamabad's invite citing terror attacks in Pathankot and Amritsar. Mr Siddhu had accepted the invitation, bragging that his controversial hug for Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Bajwa has "turned out good for 15-16 crores of people" since it led to the building of the long-awaited corridor.

Mr Sidhu's decision to go to Pakistan was "his way of thinking", the Chief Minister said. "I only know my responsibility as Chief Minister and a Sikh, so that is why we wanted this Kartarpur Corridor to happen. But it is also my responsibility is to maintain law and order and that prevents me from going (to Pakistan)," added the Chief Minister, who also launched a scathing attack on the Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa over the terror strikes.

Mr Sidhu has defended his decision to go, citing the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "PM said, 'If Berlin wall can fall, why not this?' So I'm saying the same thing... religion unites," he told reporters.

“That ( going to Pak) is his (Sidhu) wish, I can't say anything. I only know my responsibility as CM and a Sikh so that is why we wanted this( #KartarpurCorridor) to happen but also my responsibility is to maintain law and order and that prevents me from going(to Pak),” Punjab CM said.

For the time being, it is too soon to state if the Kartarpur Corridor will prompt an action that would actually defrost the relations between the two nations. However, it is certainly one step closer to moving forward towards peace. Remember we are once again trusting Pakistan.

(Writer Mallika Chugh is a student in Daulat Ram College, Delhi University. She is currently perusing graduation and is a freelance writer, who has been closely associated with Woman’s Era, Alive magazines and ANI.)

Photo – Courtesy ANI / The News Pakistan Video - Courtesy ANI


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