Kartarpur corridor: Foundation laid for cross-border pilgrimage; Pakistan readies to welcome devotees to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib

The foundation stone for the Kartarpur road corridor in India was laid down on Monday by Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu in the presence of Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, Governor VP Badnore and Union ministers Nitin Gadkari, Hardeep Singh Puri.

What is the Kartarpur Corridor?

The Kartarpur corridor is a proposed four-kilometre-long corridor between India and Pakistan connecting the Sikh holy shrine of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib to the shrine of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur (also referred to as the Kartarpur Gurdwara) in the states of Punjab in India and Pakistan. It is also one of the border gates as the route was closed following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The main aim of this proposed corridor is to facilitate the crossing of religious devotees to visit the Kartarpur Gurdwara, located in the Narowal District in Pakistan which about 120 kilometres from Lahore but only three kilometres from the Indian side of the border. The gurdwara is situated on the banks of river Ravi and is considered to be the first gurdwara ever built. The shrine holds a special significance for the Sikh community, as the first among the 10 Sikh gurus, Guru Nanak is believed to have spent the last 17 years of his life at the site of the shrine.

Pakistan's initiative

The corridor was first proposed in 1999 when then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore. Thereafter in 2000, Pakistan agreed to allow Punjabi pilgrims from India to visit the shrine without a passport and a visa by constructing a bridge from the Indian side of the border to the shrine.

In August 2018, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, upon his return from Pakistan from Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony announced that the Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had told him that the Pakistan government would open the Kartarpur corridor on Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

However, on 19 September, Pakistan had claimed that there was no formal communication with India regarding the construction of the Kartarpur corridor. But on 22 November, 2018, hours after the Indian government approved its development from Punjab's Gurdaspur, the Pakistani government agreed to open the corridor from its side. The inauguration ceremony for the corridor in Pakistan would be led by Imran and held on 28 November.

Pilgrimages between India and Pakistan are governed by the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, which includes a list of shrines in Pakistan and India open for visitors from the other country, and for which visas are required. The Kartarpur Corridor may thus need a separate treaty for its governance.

India's action

A day ahead of the Guru Nanak Jayanti on 22 November, the Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the construction and development of the Kartarpur Corridor from the Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab's Gurdaspur district to the India-Pakistan border. The decision was made at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Ministry of External Affairs in its statement also asked Pakistan “to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and to develop a corridor with suitable facilities in its territory from the International Border to Gurdwara Kartapur Sahib to facilitate easier access and smooth passage of India pilgrims through the year."

Sidhu controversy

On 9 September, Sidhu had written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, urging her to "make every possible effort" for the corridor to become a reality. He also said that Pakistan has shown "positive intent" in providing access to the historic shrine.

Sidhu had claimed that he had taken the first step towards peace and spoken to Swaraj. However, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had accused Sidhu of "lying" on the issues related to the Sikh faith to further his political agenda. While Sidhu had said that the Pakistan government was waiting for an official request from India to open the route, Badal had claimed that Sidhu had deliberately made it seem like Islamabad was ready to let Punjabi pilgrims in and that the delay was from New Delhi's side.

However, later when the Centre gave a nod to the construction of the corridor, its political rivals including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hailed the government's move.

Invitation for inauguration ceremony

On 24 November, Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had extended an invitation to Sushma Swaraj, Amarinder and Sidhu to attend the ceremony at Kartarpur on 28 November.

Swaraj thanked him for the invite and said that India will send Union ministers Badal and Puri to Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. However, Amarinder declined Pakistan's invite while Sidhu accepted the request with "with unalloyed joy".

Meanwhile, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has criticised the government's action to send two of its minister to the neighbouring country saying, "I don't think any Indian minister should go to attend any kind of event in Pakistan. They are also preventing our diplomats from accompanying the people to religious places. Until Pakistan stops sponsoring cross-border terrorism, we should not allow anyone to go there for any kind of event."

Updated Date: Nov 26, 2018 15:23:12 IST