Tuesday July 23, 2024

A step towards peace

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
November 30, 2018

Wednesday was most important day of my life as I witnessed the historic groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor. I am indeed honoured to be part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s team that performed the groundbreaking of the visa-free corridor connecting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib with Dera Baba Nanak in India. It is believed that Kartarpur is established by Baba Guru Nanak 500 years ago.

On the occasion, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar were the most prominent participants. From the Indian side, Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep S Puri, and Indian Punjab Minister for Tourism and Cultural Affairs Navjot Singh Sidhu attended the ceremony. A large number of Guru Nanak’s followers from both sides of the border, journalists and foreign diplomats were also present.

In his welcome address, PM Imran Khan said that: “The happiness I see in you today, if I were to explain to my Muslim brother and sisters, is that imagine that you are standing [four kilometres] outside Madina and cannot go in, and you are then given the chance to go. That is the happiness I see here”. Kartarpur is one of the most sacred site for the followers of Baba Guru Nanak as he played a crucial role in establishing this town and spent the last 18 years of life there. Owing to his teachings on humanity, harmony and brotherhood, Guru Nanak was equally respected by people from all religious communities. During my visit to Kartarpur, I observed that his Muslim followers were offering Fateha at his grave while his non-Muslim followers were praying at his samadhi.

I also exchanged views with visiting Indian media representatives, including Suhasini Haidar, Kadambini Sharma, Ajay Kumar (, Devirupa Mitra and Mandira Nayer. During these discussions, I maintained that the opening of the Kartarpur border ought to encourage us to open many more such corridors. I suggested that the corridor must officially be named the ‘Kartar Corridor of Peace’.

At the dinner hosted by the Foreign Office in honour of the Indian delegates, I once again urged our guests to understand the importance of peace and prosperity. Citing the examples of relations between Germany and France, North Korea and South Korea, and India and China, I emphasised that Pakistan and India need to learn from history. “We must join hands to enhance bilateral trade and cultural cooperation for the sake of the people in both countries,” I said during my address. I also mentioned that our national poet Allama Iqbal also paid rich tribute to Baba Nanak in his book ‘Bang-e-Dara’.

It is painful that Partition in 1947 also left two of the most sacred sites that are attributed to Baba Guru Nanak divided between two newly-independent sovereign countries. Gurdaspur, along with Dera Baba Nanak, was allocated to India while Kartarpur became part of Pakistan.

Following the migration of a large number of non-Muslims, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib reportedly remained non-functional for more than 50 years after Independence. Occasionally, Muslim followers used to visit the site to offer Fateha. It is also widely believed that Baba Nanak was a sufi saint who taught people to live in harmony with other communities. During the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor, the presence of Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership reflected our firm commitment to give peace a chance. The event offered a golden opportunity for the Indian government to open-heartedly welcome this proposition.

In fact, the Kartarpur Corridor was first proposed during former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore. Today, the BJP – his party – is in the central government and Indian PM Narendra Modi has to play a proactive role to fulfil Vajpayee’s incomplete agenda. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj must heed Sidhu’s wise advice. In his letter to Swaraj, he wrote: “when opportunity knocks, kindly step up and open the door”. Unfortunately, she preferred to participate in the election campaign for the 2019 polls in India.

The international community has now realised that Pakistan has proved positive intentions towards the demands for the Kartarpur Corridor. The ball is now in India’s court. In response to Pakistan’s initiative, the Indian government of India must also ensure visa-free access to religious sites for Pakistani citizens. The Kartarpur Corridor will be more effective if it facilitates two-way traffic to sacred sites located in both countries.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani