Wednesday May 18, 2022

Kartarpur to lessen Pakistan-India tension

November 27, 2018

ISLAMABAD: It is a matter of great respect and pride for Pakistan that holy places of three big religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism – are situated in Pakistan. Taxila in Rawalpindi district of Punjab has been a centre of Buddhism’s Gandhara civilisation. The Katas Raj temples, also known as Qila Katas, situated near Chakwal city, is a very sacred place for Hindus, with centuries old history, while Hasanabdal, Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur towns are well known in the world as sacred places of the Sikh community.

Kartarpur’s Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, situated at the bank of River Ravi about 10 kilometres from Narowal city, is being opened to Sikh Yatrees from India through a new border crossing on Nov 28. India’s zero line (border) is just three, four kilometres away from Kartarpur. Before the Partition, tehsil Narowal, in which Kartarpur is situated, and tehsil Shakargarh were part of Indian’s Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. After creation of Pakistan, these tehsils were made part of district Sialkot, and in 1991, Narowal and Shakargarh were upgraded as districts.

It has been a long-drawn demand of Indian Sikh Yatrees that they should be provided with the facility of visiting Kartarpur’s Gurdwara Darbar Sahib directly from Dera Baba Nanak, a city and a municipal council in Gurdaspur district of Indian Punjab. Pakistan contacted India time and again in the past in this regard, but failed to get a positive response every time. A suggestion was made once again few months back. As India is going to election next year, the Narendra Modi government showed willingness to accept the suggestion and open the Kartarpur border, to win the support of the Sikh community in polls.

According to the programme, Prime Minister Imran Khan will perform the groundbreaking of the Kartarpur Corridor project on Nov 28. The move is aimed at facilitating the Sikh Yatrees from India on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, being celebrated next year (2019).

Currently, the Sikh Yatrees intending to visit Kartarpur’s Gurdwara Darbar Sahib have to reach Lahore first through Wagah border crossing and then proceed toward Kartarpur through Baddomalhi. However, after opening of Kartarpur border crossing and construction of the corridor, the Yatrees will have to cover just six kilometres distance across Ravi River.

Historically, the proposal for opening of Kartarpur border crossing was discussed between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 for the first time. When Vajpayee came to Lahore in his Dosti (Friendship) Bus in 1999, the plan was discussed again. Pakistan People’s Party has also supported the initiative always. During the Pervez Musharraf era, when composite dialogue process was launched between Pakistan and India in 2004-5, the two countries had agreed on launching the Khokhrapar-Munabao railway line and Amritsar-Lahore-Kartarpur road link. However, later on relations between the two countries got tense and the plans could not be implemented due to security reasons. During Pakistan Muslim League-N government, the then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal also made various efforts for Indian Sikh Yatrees’ direct access to Kartarpur’s Gurdwara.

However, the final decision was reached after Imran Khan’s party won General Election in 2018. During the swearing-in ceremony of Premier Imran Khan in May 2018, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told visiting former cricketer and incumbent Indian Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu that he was in favour of construction of Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate the Yatrees. The announcement sent a wave of joy among the Sikh community in India and Pakistan.

The initiative, launched by Pakistan, is primarily aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries. At the moment, the corridor would be used only for performance of religious rituals by the Sikh Yatrees. The road leading to the Gurdwara from Indian border would be fenced properly. Pakistan has awarded the task of construction Kartarpur religious corridor to Frontier Works Organization (FWO), which is carrying out work on it at a fast pace. The Pakistani government is preparing a master plan for construction and completion of the corridor, and it is hoped the project would be completed by November 2019, when the Sikh community would celebrate 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. It is also hoped the act of inaugurating work on Kartarpur Corridor by Prime Minister Imran Khan would prove to be beginning of new relations with India.

Pakistan and India are engaged in trade via two routes, Karachi port and Wagah-Atari currently. Pakistan has suggested opening old trade routes of Khokharapar-Munabao in Sindh and Head Sulemanki in Punjab. Rawalakot, Poonch, Chakothi and Srinagar routes were opened to trade and travel in 2008, but they fell prey to security issues. If the intra-Kashmir corridor had remained open, trade between Jammu and Sialkot could have been restored. By building Kartarpur-Dera Baba Nanak Corridor, the old trade route of Amritsar-Jammu could also be made functional. To facilitate visitors, a 4km long bridge over the Ravi will have to be built, which was blasted in the 1965 war.

Pakistan’s total border is about 6,774km. Pakistan and India share 2240km long border, which was demarked on August 17, 1947. The border includes Working Boundary, over 740km long Line of Control also exists between them. Indian Gujarat borders Tharparker, Umerkot, Sanghar, Khairpur, Ghotki in Sindh, Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur and Bahwalnagar in Punjab, while Indian Punjab touches Okara, Kasur, Lahore and Narowal in Pakistan’s Punjab. Narowal and Sialkot districts lie on Pakistan’s side of the Working Boundary, while occupied Jammu and Kashmir are on the Indian side of the Working Boundary. Then starts the Line of Control, which has Azad and occupied Jummu and Kashmir on both sides, respectively. It is a temporary border between India and Pakistan.