Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur


It was
heartening to hear Narendra Modi praise Imran Khan for facilitating the opening
of 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the Gurudwara
Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan,
after a mostly anti-Pakistan
first during the general elections and then after the decision
related to Jammu and Kashmir was taken by his government. Full credit for
taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in
spite of an all along during his tenure belligerent Indian posture must go to
Imran Khan. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot
Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this
and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision in spite of adverse
criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s
swearing in ceremony.

In the
history of India-Pakistan relationship most of the times Pakistan has been the
aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making
moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in an usually
tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, Narendra Modi should have
used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar
arrangement for Pakistani citizens who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah
through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.          

It is also
an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority
Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which the
recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes was removed as a
result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another minority,
Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa,
with a warm welcome.

Going by the
reactions of Sikh pilgrims who have had a chance to go across the corridor to
Kartarpur it appears Pakistan has left no stone un-turned to make it a pleasant
experience for them. By this one gesture Imran Khan has won the goodwill of
Indians. However, it’ll be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport
as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not
possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on Indian side
suggested they should allow Adhar Card instead.

From our
experience during 2005 Delhi to Multan peace march, on feet in India and by
vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially
from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border but had to be
disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do
so. The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so
that it doesn’t hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting
the resting palce of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from
this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

The 2005
Delhi-Multan peace march was taken out with three objectives:

(1) India
and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the
issue of J&K which should be resolved 
according to wishes of the people belonging there, (2) India and
Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their
defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities
on both sides in the interest of common people, and (3) Two countries should
remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the
border. It was the third demand which attracted most applause in the rural
areas and concern among the urban educated. One Tadi Kirtan singer in a
Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the
above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic,
and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across
the border is allowed it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues.
We must admit we felt humbled being educated by a common man on street. He has
left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors
who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.     

The 2005
peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister
of Pakistan, who also happens to be the Sajjada Nashin of the mazar of a
Sufi saint Bahauddin Zakariya in Multan,
where the march terminated. That
day Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a
crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers which is easier said in
India than in Pakistan, ‘One day Pakistan and India will reunite like the two
Germanies.’ Such was the congeniality created due to peace march.

Even if you
look at the mood on the day when Narendra Modi was flagging off the 562
pilgrims from Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side,
all the acrimony between the leadership of two countries had disappeared like a
magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official
enmity maintained artificially, which easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the
atmosphere is more conducive, between the two governments doesn’t percolate
down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak
the same language.

If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely the animosity between the establishments will melt away.

Indian side holds the present initiative of Pakistani government in suspect. They think Pakistani Army or Inter Services Intelligence might have some ulterior motives to encourage Khalistani protagonists to create disturbance in India. That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship based on trust can take off. The stakes for peace are so high which will make life of so many so easier that it is worth taking the risk. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said that he’ll talk to Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence in spite of the nature of official relationship of two governments, easier travel across the borde remains a popular demand, at least in bordering areas on both sides.

The Indian
position that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem
of homegrown terrorism it’ll not dialogue with it, is slightly untenable. It is
like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists
in the Bhartiya Janata Party’s state unit it’ll not deal with the Uttar Pradesh
government. With the recent demonstrations against Imran Khan government in
Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment
are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most
friendly leadership that India can expect Pakistan to have, to deal with it. It
should not fritter away the opportunity.

Narendra Modi should also realize that his Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies.

If he were to change his nature of politics by appealing to better senses of people to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could equally successfully mobilise public opinion in his favour. The mood of the people and politicians on both sides of border on Novermber 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.

By Sandeep and Arundhati Dhuru