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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: The long, severe, painful wounds inflicted on those who suffered in the aftermath of partition between India and Pakitan, got a much needed solace, when a 4 km long Kartarpur Peace Corridor was thrown open to the public officially both on the Indian and Pakistan side, in time to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. This corridor connects the Dera Baba Nanak Gurudwara on the Indian side, to the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib on the Pakistan side, a distance of a mere 4 km, three of which is in Pakistan.
Though four generations of Sikhs all over the world have been demanding a corridor to connect the two holy sites, it was largely seen as a pipe dream, with relations between the two countries not stabilizing enough in the last 72 years, for a project like this to take shape.
The Pakistan government, under the leadership of prime minister Imran Khan, by pursuing this project, has scored big time, not just for the Sikh community, but also internationally, in its impetus for peace talks with India. The talks had taken a complete backseat, in the last six years, since the Narendra Modi government took charge in India. Possibility of peace reached a breakpoint recently, with the Indian government, holding 80 lakh Kashmiris under siege, for more than three months now.
The inauguration of the corridor on both sides of the border was the second time since the two leaders spoke on common grounds, since their last encounter at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). While for the Indian prime minister, obsessed with headgears, sporting a bright, orange turban this time, it was just another photo op, with precious little contribution to the peace corridor, for Imran Khan it was another chance to hit back at the Indian PM over Kashmir. While Modi delivered yet another inane speech about the virtues of Guru Nanak, bypassing key issues of peace, thanking Imran Khan for respecting the sentiments of Sikhs, Imran Khan garnered support with his no holds barred attack on Modi, for ignoring the plight of the Kashmiris.
In a scathing attack, he insisted that “leaders bring together people, and do not spread hate to win votes”. He gave the example of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who “not only forgave his tormentors, who kept him imprisoned for 27 years, he also ensured with apartheid, that there was no more bloodshed in the country”.
He then drew attention to how 80 lakh Kashmiris are still being held under siege in Kashmir, guarded by 9 lakh armed men, “a crisis which has frozen all peace talks,” he stated.
Insisting that India returns freedom and justice to Kashmir, he stressed: “This issue is no more territorial and has now become a humanitarian crisis”. Expressing hope he said, “I pray our relations with India will be what it should be soon, with open borders and free trade. After all, we only have one issue to resolve, that of Kashmir”. “If France and Germany can be friends, with open borders and prosperity, after so many wars between them, why not us?” he said.
As the shrine lies only three kilometers from the border with India, Pakistan in the year 2000 had agreed to allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the shrine visa-free by constructing a bridge from the border to the shrine. But the Indian government, expressing security concerns, did not take up the offer.
Even in May 2017, the Narendra Modi government agreed to put up four binoculars instead for pilgrims on this side of the border to view the shrine across the border, which they had been anyways doing it for years, instead of building the corridor.
And then a miracle happened, said one of the Sikhs, who offered his prayers at the gurudwara for the very first time, when the corridor opened yesterday, after only gazing at it for years.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, formed a commune here and is supposed to have settled here until his death on 22 September 1539. It is, therefore, the second holiest site of the Sikh religion after Gurdwara Janam Asthan – the birthplace of Guru Nanak located in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan.
Former cricketer and now Congress MP Navjot Singh Sidhu who was invited by Imran Khan, his good friend from their cricketing days, for his swearing-in ceremony last year, is said to have briefed Khan of the importance that this corridor holds for Sikhs.
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And within ten short months, in time for the 550th birth year celebration of Guru Nanak, the run down gurudwara established in 1539, existing on 42 acres of land, largely deserted, is now a magnificent, white, sprawling structure, the largest gurudwara in the world, spread over 104 acres, which will receive about 5000 pilgrims every day. Pakistan has, of course, imposed 20 $ service fees, which will earn them a hefty revenue of $ 100,000 per day. The Sikhs are not happy about this, but to many, it’s a small price to pay for the access, warmth, and camaraderie that awaits them in Pakistan.
Sidhu, who has probably scored his biggest political goal yet by giving a fillip to the stuck project and who was criticized severely for his now-famous hug with Pakistani General Bajwa, and his “friendship” with Imran Khan, pulled no stops to express his love and gratitude for the Pakistan premier, on this occasion as well.
Launching into his characteristic bombastic expressions of love, he insisted that by respecting the sentiments of 1.4 crore Sikhs and gifting them this memorable and long-awaited pilgrimage, Imran Khan, “had stood the test of friendship”. “Alexander won territories with fear and battle, but Imran Khan is winning hearts with love”, he said.
Reminding those gathered, that the fences have finally fallen off after 72 years of simply gazing at the gurudwara, he thanked Imran Khan, for creating this piece of heaven for the Sikhs. The newly built gurudwara is an all-white structure, to symbolize peace between the two countries.
Taking this opportunity to shut down haters, who sent him to a political exile for five months, by criticizing him for hugging the “enemy”, he said,” my heart is full of love, my politics is love and my path is that of love. My hug is one of love and I send one to prime minister Modi as well”. “Solve problems with love,“ he opined.
Meanwhile, respect for Imran Khan by the Sikh community has gone up manifold, with them pleasantly surprised at the incredibly, beautiful structure, awaiting them and the warmth with which they were welcomed, on their very first visit on Pakistan soil. 155 of the international community of Sikhs were from the UK alone.
Several Sikh organizations like California based United Sikh Mission, have been petitioning the Indian government to help open the corridor. “Though we understand the concerns of the Indian government regarding terrorism, this was no reason to keep the entire community away from the holy site”, said Onkar Singh, who is part of this Sikh mission.
A former World Bank official, Indo-American Gurcharan Singh was one of the invitees of the Pakistani Gurudwara Parbandak committee and entered Pakistan through the Wagah border. He was one of those people, who had tried to influence both the Indian and Pakistan governments to open this corridor to the Sikh community, way back in 2010.
“Every time Sikhs bowed their head down in prayers, they prayed that we should be reconnected back to all the gurudwaras which got separated from us during partition. That no passport or visa requirement should stop us. That is exactly what has happened now”, he said from Wagah border.
Gurcharan Singh who along with the then UN ambassador, John Mc Donnell, who is credited with building a similar peace corridor between Israel and Palestine, created a feasibility
report for the peace corridor between India and Pakistan. “The border area than had no roads, and John suggested that we would first need a road to connect the two borders,” he said.
He got the then chief minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, to pass a resolution to build this corridor in October 2010. He also spoke with several senior central government officials, but nothing materialized. “I have visited 95 countries through the World Bank and about 25 of them through various gurudwaras and on each one of these visits, I would speak about the corridor, the people would laugh at me, dismissing the possibility but promising to support financially as well, if it materializes”.
“And today my dream has been enhanced many times over, as I can only marvel at the shape that this gurudwara has taken, much to the delight of us Sikhs”, he said.
Former bureaucrat Sukhie Brar, who has also worked with World Bank, had this to say, “the fundamental message of Guru Nanak was that all humans are equal in the eyes of God, there is no Muslim and there is no Hindu, a message so necessary for communal harmony today, that it cannot be overemphasize.”
Former Prime Minister of India Shri Manmohan Singh on his return after paying respect, visiting Gurdwara in Kartarpur, remarked, “It was a good beginning, India-Pakistan relations are subject to many buts and ifs, I hope this is a good beginning to normalize our relation.”
Integrated Check Post of Kartarpur Corridor was inaugurated by PM Modi today.
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