Pakistan and India Agree to Construct Shared Corridor for Sikh Pilgrimage to Kartarpur
The Kartarpur Crossing, dubbed the “corridor of peace,” will allow visa-free entry for Indian Sikhs traveling to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, located in Kartarpur, Punjab in Pakistan. India and Pakistan have both agreed to construct this five km corridor that will give Sikhs access to the holy temple, which they have struggled to visit ever since the partition in 1947.
The corridor will allow Sikh travelers to cross India’s international border in Dera Baba Nanak, Punjab. Prior to this project, attaining a visa was extremely restrictive, Sikhs had to pass through the Wagah/Attari crossing, and finally travel by road for over 200 km to reach Kartarpur.
The Gurdwara is regarded as one the holiest sites in Sikhism, located just three miles away from the border dividing Pakistan and India. It is believed that the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, spent his last 18 years at this Gurdwara. The site reopened in 2000 after being closed during partition and is presently managed by Govind Singh, a Pakistani Sikh.
"For 70 years, we have watched the site from 4 kilometers away," said Harsimrat Kaur Badal, an Indian government minister. "A new history is being written." Badal was one of the three Indian ministers who attended the Pakistani inauguration ceremony for the project.
The start date for the Indian half of the corridor has yet to be established, while construction in Pakistan is expected to begin at the end of this month. Both countries have agreed to fund the construction of their own respective sides of the corridor.
Plans for this project had remained dormant since 1998. The idea was revived when provincial Punjab minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu requested that Gen. Qamar Bajwa, the Chief of Army Staff, reconsider it during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inauguration ceremony in August.
The project is a small step towards mending the two countries’ relations. India has long accused Pakistan of supporting the Khalistan movement. Led by Sikh separatists, the goal of the movement is to create an independent country within the Punjab region. In turn, Pakistan accuses India of supporting Balochi separatists within the country.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj rejected offers to attend the Pakistani inauguration ceremony and talks with Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister for Pakistan due to the accusations against Pakistan.
Javed Ashraf Qazi, former head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, believes Prime Minister Narendra Modi only agreed to the project to better his standing with the Sikh community for the upcoming general elections in May. Krishan Pratap Singh, an analyst from New Delhi, agrees with Qazi’s judgment.
"The Akali Dal, a coalition partner of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, is struggling in Punjab with internal strife and the Kartarpur corridor is being seen as an attempt to provide them a much-needed fillip,” explained Singh.
Both leaders of the countries have released multiple statements assuring the public that both countries are on the same page for this project. “Did anyone ever think that the Berlin Wall would fall?” asked Modi in a released statement. “Maybe with the blessings of Guru Nanak Devji, this corridor [. . .] will act as a bridge between the peoples of the two countries.”
Kartarpur Crossing is scheduled to open in 2019, coinciding with the commemoration of the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth. Thousands of Sikhs are expected to make the pilgrimage to this holy site.