LAHORE: As it nears its planned inauguration, the Kartarpur Corridor is attracting much anticipation from observers who see it as a ‘unique experiment’ at a time when Pakistan-India ties are at their lowest.
However, despite the current hostile climate, the Pakistan government is hoping to turn the grand cross-border project into a religious tourism bonanza for the country. With over 90 per cent of work completed, Pakistani authorities are brainstorming ideas on how to reap maximum economic benefit from the corridor.
“Following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision, the government is aiming to promote religious tourism along with international standards,” said MPA Mahinder Pall Singh who is also a member of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). “As the Kartarpur Corridor project has garnered global attention in terms of both tourism and heritage value, the government has planned to promote this project as a hub of investment opportunity,” he told The Express Tribune.
According to Singh, under the $50 million Punjab Tourism Economic Growth project, the government will restore and rehabilitate the birthplace of Nankana Sahib, Darbar Sahib Narowal, Punjab Sahib Hasanabdal, Rori Sahib Gujranwala, Sucha Soda Sheikhupura, Dera Sahib Lahore and other religious spots in the province over the next five years.
“This project has immense heritage and cultural value, and consequently, has the potential to attract local and foreign investment,” he said. “The government has identified that the project has huge potential for the hospitality industry along with developing tourism in the region.”
Keeping in view this significance, the Punjab government is making a short documentary to attract potential local and foreign investors, Singh told The Express Tribune. The documentary, he said, would help open up avenues for investment by portraying the image of a ‘vibrant and secure Pakistan’ before the international community.
“The documentary will not only help promote culture, heritage, and tourism but also promote a softer image of the country and help generate healthy economic activity in the form of trade and investments,” the MPA added.
The terms of reference (TORs) the government has finalised for the making of the documentary were shared with The Express Tribune. They show that the government intends to highlight the strategic location of Pakistan as a hub of culture and heritage with reference to the importance of other historic relics and monuments in the region. The documentary also intends to portray an image of openness, security, and friendliness to foreign investors by showcasing Punjab's rich cultural experiences and elements of tolerance and diversity.
“We aim to build on concrete facts and eliminate many myths and misconceptions about security, isolationism, intolerance, and poverty in the region thereby encouraging foreign tourists, students, spiritualists, academics and researchers to learn and enjoy the many benefits of travelling to Punjab and experience its history, art, music, food, festivals, hospitality and recreation,” Singh said, while talking about the TORs of the documentary.
“It will also highlight the recently announced visa-on-arrival policy for residents of the UK, Malaysia, Turkey, and 70 other countries,” he added.
The MPA also revealed that various government agencies, like ETPB, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), the Immigration and Passport Office, Pakistan Customs and Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC), are working jointly to make the Kartarpur project a big success for Pakistan.
“It has been decided that a total of 5,000 Sikh pilgrims will come to Kartarpur on a daily basis between dawn and dusk. The FWO will be responsible for the repairing and maintenance of the terminal and they also provide transportation to the pilgrims,” he said. “Their buses will provide pick and drop services to and from a special point.”
The MPA added that ETPB will look after the arrangements for food, residence and medical facilities for all Sikh pilgrims. Estimates suggest that a sum of Rs10 million will be required for daily food arrangements. Meanwhile, Pakistan Rangers will see to the security arrangements on a permanent basis, whereas the internal security of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur will be handled by ETPB security guards.
Talking about the importance of the Kartarpur project from a religio-cultural angle, Singh stressed the cordial relationship Muslims and Sikhs have enjoyed for centuries. “The Kartarpur Corridor is an effort to further strengthen these ties between Muslims and Sikhs. It is a small part of the government's strategy to promote peace and interfaith harmony among the Muslims and Sikhs of South Asia and the rest of the world,” he said. "All Sikhs will view the Kartarpur Corridor as a gift from Pakistan on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.”
“As such, all the initiatives linked to this project will help promote peace and harmony among the people of different faiths in addition to providing countless opportunities for religious and historical tourism,” the MPA added.