Special Reports

‘Hug’plomacy: Corridor of Peace

A Sikh shrine named as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur (located in Narowal District of Pakistan, 120 km from Lahore but only three km from the Indian side of the border) was built on the historic site where first Guru of Sikhs spent about last eighteen years of his life until his tragic demise in the very same village on September 22, 1539. On the Indian side, about one km from the border and on the east bank of River Ravi, Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak is situated in the city Dera Baba Nanak which is located in Gurdaspur District. The Guru Nanak Dev Ji used to meditate on Waheguru (God) near the well called "Ajita Randhawa da khooh". He came here after his first Udasi (tour) during December 1515 AD to see the members of his family. His wife Mata Sulakhani and his two sons Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand had come to stay here in their maternal home at Pakho-Ke-Randhawa village, near Dera Baba Nanak, where Lala Mool Raj, father-in-law of Guru Nanak was working as the Patwari. Duni Chand, Governor of the town at that time, met Guru Nanak at Pakhoke and donated 100 acres of land to Guru Sahib. On acceptance of the land he decided to settle there and a small residential hut was constructed and while Pakhoke was renamed as Kartarpur Sahib.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji formally laid the foundation of Kartarpur on Magh 13, 1572 Bikrmi year (1515 AD) and Kartarpur thus became the first Sikh center. At that time this village was situated across the River Ravi, later on Gurdwara Sri Darbar Sahib was built in commemoration of Guru Nanak. Kartarpur has also had the honour to be the first center of the Sikhism and religious tradition of langar (community kitchen), which is now being followed throughout the world. The complex of Gurdwaras are also noticeable, holding enormous importance in the Sikhs’ spiritual history, due to their location near the border between Pakistan and India. Indian Sikhs gather there in large numbers while on their visit to local Gurdwara, at a viewpoint made for the purpose and equipped with binocular for the visitors to perform Darshan (sacred viewing of the site) from the Indian side of the border.

Luck was on our side at the time of partition when beside Kartarpur, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (Nankana Sahib) also formed part of the Pakistani Punjab.  What makes Nankana Sahib (located about 91 km west of Lahore and about 75 km east of Faisalabad) important in the Sikh world is not just it being the birth place of the first Guru of the Sikhs, rather of Sikhism itself. Beside a number of historically important Gurdwaras, a microscopic Sikh minority also exists, that mostly resides in the surroundings of these temples. Somehow, Nankana Sahib and Peshawar remains the hub of the social and religious activities. Out of all odds one Sikh family under the leadership of Isher Singh and Aiya Singh preferred to stay behind at the time of partition and later on extended their services to the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) in terms of religiously and administratively running the Gurdwaras in the wake of chaos generated due to massive migration of the Sikhs towards the eastern side. Majority of the Sikhs left Pakistan but their affection for the sacred temples and longing for visiting them never waned and ultimately this led to the prayer of every Sikh in daily Ardas (prayers) that he’d visit Nankana Sahib for pilgrimage one day. Thousands of the Sikh Yatrees from all over the world visit Pakistan for pilgrimage. Government of Pakistan has always been on the facilitating end to extend the best possible cooperation to entertain the visitors. Initially, the aforementioned family used to look after the arrangements of the visitors in collaboration with ETPB and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) staff, who used to come from India for a short period.

Ardas of countless Sikhs has finally been answered and the call for a visa-free Kartarpur Corridor, an old, strong, persistent demand of the Sikh community has come into existence. In August 2018, a hug between COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Navjot Singh Sidhu, former cricketer and Indian politician, paved the way towards the initiation of the opening of the Kartarpur-Dera Baba Nanak Corridor. Navjot Singh Sidhu was invited to the oath-taking ceremony of the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, his old friend from cricketing days. After facing criticism for receiving a hug from General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Sidhu commented that ‘Bajwa had assured him of opening the corridor before the 550th  birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.’ The move was put forward a number of times before, but in vain, mostly due to non-conformity of the Indian government. Finally, the Government of Pakistan in September 2018 one-sidedly decided to open the corridor, which was confirmed by Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak for visa-free entry of Indian Sikhs from India to Pakistan. The advancement was welcomed by Sikh community across the world and was considered a gift from the Pakistani Government to mark the 550th celebrations. Somewhat reluctantly, withstanding the local pressure, Modi government had to move forward. On November 28, 2018 ground breaking ceremony of the long-awaited Kartarpur Corridor took place, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in the presence of COAS, Pakistani ministers and Indian Union Minister for Food Processing Industries, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Indian Minster for Housing, Hardeep Singh Puri, and the Indian Punjab Minister of Local Government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs and Museums, Navjot Singh Sidhu. The project will be developed in three phases. In phase one remodeling of the Gurdwara, expansion of the courtyard, border terminal, amenities block, 4.5 km restricted entry road including an 800 metre long bridge on River Ravi and a bus terminal will take place. In the second phase a full-fledged accommodation will be constructed for the religious devotees at the venue. Third phase will encompass construction of a quality hotel in the vicinity. The venue will also be provided the facilities of souvenir shop, flower shop, tuck shop, cafeteria, library and a small hospital.
Pakistan has expressed desire to develop the bilateral talk on all the pertinent matters including Kashmir to improve the regional peace and stability. Pakistan will take two steps forward if India takes one. It is hoped that if Indian government shows some positivity, such steps will bring peace and overall stability in the region in general and between Pakistan and India in particular.

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