It took more than 70 years for Pakistan and India to bridge a distance roughly 7 kilometres on either side of their border. The initiative to build a corridor connecting two Sikh holy sites — Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan and Dera Baba Nanak in India — came from the Pakistan side, and India failed to shy away this time, despite its best attempts at disputing a genuine peace overture. Pakistan’s friendly gesture is meant to facilitate the Indian Sikh community to visit, without the need of a visa, the sacred place where Baba Guru Nanak, their spiritual leader, lived for 18 years until his death in 1539, instead of resorting to the lone option of performing darshan, or sacred viewing of the site, with binoculars from across the border.
Finally, the long-awaited Kartarpur Corridor is taking shape and is speculated to be the Corridor of International Peace. Both the countries have laid the foundation to start the construction of the ‘faith corridor’. As proposed, the Indian government will construct and develop the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the border, while Pakistan will build the other part of the corridor connecting the border to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of Narowal district in Pakistani Punjab. The Pakistan government plans to open the visa-free corridor on Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in November 2019.
The Kartarpur development comes at a time of no dialogue and little contact between Pakistan and India. A meaningful confidence-building measure, the move has the potential to undo this bilateral freeze and push the two sides to engage in a positive and purposeful manner. It’s not just the reopening of a route closed by the Partition, but the beginning of an unprecedented form of diplomacy — religious diplomacy. The initiative can become a template for cross-border exchanges based on faith and extend the momentum to other areas, given the undeniable role religion and religious beliefs are playing in interstate and intrastate conflicts and aspects of international affairs in the 21st century.
India, though, does not agree. While the whole world watches the development with renewed hopes for peace in the flashpoint region, Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj brushes off any possibility of improvement in the bilateral ties in the wake of the Kartarpur move, harping on the same old policy of blame game in the context of so-called cross-border terrorism. Swaraj announces “there will be no dialogue [with Pakistan] and no [Indian] participation in Saarc [conference in Islamabad later this year]”, in a clear expression of disregard to Pakistan’s initiative that only comes in pursuit of peace. However, such an undiplomatic disregard from the Indian side is nothing new, and is meant to serve its long-maintained policy of trying to isolating Pakistan diplomatically and in all other contexts, like sports and culture — albeit with no success.
History is witness to Pakistan always stepping out first, in search of peace with India. Who could forget General (retd) Ziaul Haq springing up a surprise by flying to New Delhi on the pretext of watching a Test match between Pakistan and India in Jaipur in February 1987 at a time when the Indian troops massed along the Pakistani border. A vivid reminder of Pakistan’s wish for peace is Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s sudden handshake with former Indian PM Atal Behri Vajpayee during a Saarc summit in Kathmandu in January 2002, meant to convey to him Pakistan’s openness for talks despite India’s last-moment recoil at the Agra Summit.
While India’s reaction has all along been void of reciprocity, it’s about time it realised that dialogue and search for areas of concord are the only way forward for both countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2018.