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In Gesture To India, Pakistan To Open Cross-Border Pathway To Sikh Holy Site

August 9, 2023

Indian Sikhs have long desired to visit one of their most sacred locations, a towering white temple constructed on a riverbank. They built viewing platforms from a distance of nearly two miles just to look at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur.

It is where Sikhs think the founder of their religion, Guru Nanak, passed away in the 16th century. But ever since Pakistan and India were divided in 1947, when British administration over South Asia came to an end, the shrine has largely been out of reach. It is located in Pakistan, past a border that is generally closed and unstable. Of the 1.4 billion people living in the country, the majority of Sikhs—more than 20 million—do so in India.

Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, however, ceremonially broke ground on a corridor on Wednesday in order to grant Indian Sikhs access to the gurdwara without the need for a visa. It will be a component of the larger Kartarpur Crossing complex.

An Indian government minister who attended the ceremony, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, remarked, “For 70 years, we have watched the site from 4 kilometres away.” In the present, “a new history is being written.”

It came after Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu’s Monday inauguration of India’s portion of the corridor. Naidu reportedly stated, “We are granting the wish of thousands of Sikh devotees.”

One among the hundreds who boarded a train from Hyderabad, India, to see Khan’s ceremony was Inder Singh, 66. We never anticipated this happening, Singh added. “I believe it to be a miracle through Baba Guru Nanak’s grace.”

A few thousand Indian pilgrims do make the annual pilgrimage, but they said that getting permission was challenging.

Khan called for peace with India while there was a rare instance of cross-border collaboration. The nations are rivals with nuclear weapons and have fought three wars in the seven decades since gaining independence. “We want a civilised relationship,” he declared. “If you want to solve a problem, there is no problem that can’t be solved.”

The pilgrims, who from a distance resembled a sea of vibrant turbans worn by devout Sikh men, shared that effervescent exuberance.

With Guru Nanak’s blessing, relationships would undoubtedly become better, the pilgrim, Singh, remarked. “And look, the two cricketers have done it,” he continued, alluding to Navjot Singh Sidhu, a local Indian Cabinet member and a former cricketer who was Khan’s longtime buddy. Khan was an international star athlete who led Pakistan’s team to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.

The crossing’s development had lain dormant since 1988, but it gained speed after Sidhu, a Sikh, asked for its opening at Khan’s inauguration in August. India’s approval required several additional months.

In spite of tensions, the pilgrim, Inder Singh, claimed that common Indians and Pakistanis want peace. People hug me and invite me to tea and other events as soon as I get off the train.

Then he sprinted towards the gurdwara, which was surrounded by walls covered in barbed wire. Outside of the lofty building, which was crowned with multiple domes, worshippers feasted. Later, people poured into the structure in a horde while chanting and praying.

Analysts, however, opined that a cordial atmosphere along the corridor was doubtful. Pakistan is allegedly hosting extremists who have carried out fatal cross-border strikes, according to India. Pakistan and Pakistan’s right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling party have historically had acrimonious relations.

Sushma Swaraj, the foreign minister of India, denied a request to attend the Pakistani event as a sign of the tense situation. Later, she implied that Pakistan had put off creating the corridor for a very long time. Additionally, she declined a request to represent India in a regional conference to be held in Pakistan.

Many Indians charge Pakistan with aiding the Sikh separatist movement that seeks to establish Khalistan as their own nation. A group of roughly a dozen Pakistani Sikh schoolchildren shouted “Long live Khalistan!” outside the gurdwara to draw attention to those worries. They encountered quiet.

According to Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to build his country’s portion of the corridor with an eye towards impending elections in May. He claimed that denying the Kartarpur bridge would have angered the Sikh community.

According to Qazi, the gesture was made to help Pakistan’s troubled reputation overseas. It will undoubtedly bring Pakistan and Imran Khan a great deal of goodwill, he added.

Even though it was modest, the decision by India and Pakistan to allow the border was praised in an editorial in a Pakistani newspaper. Two ministers were sent, even though the Indian foreign minister was not present, indicating that India “does not want to ignore the growing bloc that favours a thaw,” Pakistan Today reported.

The ceremony is being held a year before Sikhs celebrate the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, an occasion Pakistan hopes would draw tens of thousands of visitors and pilgrims.

Many Sikhs welcomed the corridor’s anticipated opening as a temporary solace from the anguish of being cut off from their sacred sites since partition.

Read More: Who are the Sikhs and What are their Beliefs?

The beginning, according to Inder Singh. “I hope that the times from seventy years ago return.”

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