By Frank F Islam
On November 9, 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor in a ceremony at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. This Corridor will allow Indian Sikh pilgrims without a visa to visit the Gurdwara which is the last resting place of Nanak Dev, the founding guru of the Sikh religion.
At the inauguration of the Corridor, Prime Minister Khan stated, “Pakistan believes that the road to prosperity for the region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace, saying that today Pakistan is not only opening the borders but also their hearts for the Sikh community.” These words of the Prime Minister capture the symbolic and historic importance of the opening of the KartarpurCorridor and convey the potential it represents for the region.
Looking backward, the Kartarpur Gurdwara was closed from 1947 to 2000. In the late 1990’s, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee discussed opening the Kartarpur border but because of conflicts between Pakistan and India at the time that did not occur.
The idea resurfaced in late 2018 promotedby both India and Pakistan. From that point forward,both countries advanced the concept to bring the Corridor to reality in a compressed time frame.
What has been accomplished might appear modest. Sikhpilgrims from India will enter Pakistan on allocated official buses in morning and will return the same evening through the Corridor after visiting the Gurdwara. But, given the context, this accomplishment represents progress and could set the stage for doing much more. Indeed, in some quarters, the corridor is being considered a game changer. This is sobecause – although there were reservations on both side and the tensions between India and Pakistan remain substantial – the project managed to materialize.
As a result of this breakthrough, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor has drawn international attention. The Japanese government opined that the opening will promote people-to-to-people exchanges between India and Pakistan. And, the U.S. State Department praised the bold move by the two countries.
Being an Indian-American with a desire to see strong relations between India and Pakistan, I sincerely hope that the Corridor is a game changer and that this international attention and praise is warranted. In my opinion, formal diplomacy and dialogue will be required to form those relations. But it must beaccompanied by people to people measuressuch as mutual visits of media and academia persons, students exchange programsand expanding tourism programsthrough art, cultural heritage and architectural attractions to ensure the future peace and prosperity of both countries.
A shared state of social, religious and economic harmony will definitely redound to the benefit of Pakistan, India and the region. And, I have no doubt, that Pakistan’s outreach to the Sikh community will pay off for it individually as well. This religious tolerance speaks volumes.
It opens new avenues for Pakistan to initiate nongovernmental interactions with India and other countries. The Sikh community is quite influential in key developed countries around the world and has many followers with an interest in visiting in holy sites in Pakistan.
In addition, there are several historic Buddhist places in Taxila, Northern parts and tribal areas of Pakistanwhichwould be of great interestfor Buddhiststo visit if they have a ‘facilitated and easy’ access to those religious sites.Similarly, there are many ancient and important temples in Punjab and Sindh, such as theKatasRaj Temple, which could attract millions of Hindu pilgrims in the country.
In the brief time that the Kartarpur Corridor has been open, thousands of Indian Sikhs have visited Kartarpur Gurdwara. They have crossed from one country to another with open hearts to search and find inner peace and contentment.
By giving them this opportunity, Pakistan and India have brought the prospect of mutual peace and prosperity closer for both countriesas well. This seems to have the potential for a reawakening and reaffirming of what has become a very strained relationship. Time will tell whether the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is the first step in the journey of opening of the hearts and minds that will be required to realize that potential.
The writer is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC