The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor providing access to Sikhs to visit the revered Sikh Guru’s final resting place is in reality of enormous ramifications, a landmark achievement for Pakistan. Proposed during former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s 1999 visit, the project remained on the back burner for two decades due to the fluctuating ties between the two nations, the foundation stone for the Kartarpur Corridor was laid only last year. This project will become a basis for improving relations between the people of India and Pakistan – if not between their governments. Creating goodwill among the people, it is a major step forward also in Pakistan’s dealing with its own religious minorities, some of whom happen to be Sikhs.
Born in the Punjab, Sikhism is the homeland of Sikhs. Partition in 1947 saw most Sikhs migrating to India but their holy places remained in Pakistan. Pakistan became home to more than 150 sacred Sikh sites. Other important gurdwaras include the Dera Sahab in Lahore and Gurdwara Punja Sahab Hasan Abdal, where Sikh devotees from across the globe visit and perform religious rituals. Followers of Guru Nanak converge on Punjab each year to visit holy sites in the province.
Pakistan has had a difficult relationship with its religious minorities since its inception. Pakistan was made to be an ‘Islamic state’, instead of just a Muslim-majority state this led to a situation where Islamic scholars – real ones and token ones to taking it upon themselves to decide what the place of non-Muslims would be in the newly formed country. The Quaid-e Azam is on record to have held that “you go to your churches, you go to your temples, that has nothing to do with the business of the state” after his sad and premature demise this was soon (along with this other ideals) brushed away.
As a consequence Islam in the strict and literal interpretation is prevalent in cities and professed by literate people. Promoted by the Deoband school of thought this was declared to be the new ‘Pakistan ideology’. This did not only leave non-Muslims including the few remaining in Pakistan Sikhs, the Christians and Hindus in a suspense, but even millions of people considered to be Muslims, other than Shias, Aga Khanis, Ahmadis these include even Shias and Barelvis, practicing what is nowadays called ‘popular Islam’ where left guessing how to find their place in the new state and state-promoted religion. At the basis of this lies the idea that Islam unites all Muslims. This is true of course in principle but if we look at the way Islam is practised by different Muslims and how differently they interpret certain injunctions of the same Islam it becomes quite clear that one cannot pick one interpretation and make it the only valid or preferred one because it will cement differences within the community instead of highlighting the common bond, that of Quran. In addition, non-Muslims were definitely left wondering if they were part of the nation and how they can relate to a state treating them as second-class citizens.
The question of equal rights to non-Muslims especially with regard to their practicing their religion has been neglected in the official ideology, in the media and in education so much so that even the pre-Islamic history of the territory that now forms Pakistan, namely the civilization of Mohenjo Daro and Mehargarh, but also Buddhism that has flourished in the area centuries ago and Hinduism- all have been conveniently kept aside and concealed or neglected. These steps have led to rising difficulties in the process of nation-building and the emotional and material inclusion of all groups residing here into the Pakistani state.
The Kartarpur Corridor can be taken as a step into the right direction, namely to recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion without discrimination – which is, by the way, exactly what Islam ordains and what the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) showed to us by his example. There is a dire need to explain to our children (and to many of our fellow Pakistanis) that being a Muslim is not a privilege but a responsibility in the first place to embrace and defend all other religions. Without that it will be also extremely difficult to effectively fight the roots of radical Islam in our country.
There is another angle also to the Kartarpur Corridor. There is a saying that ‘Even the most decent person cannot live in peace if an ill-disposed neighbor is averse to that’. While it is right to allow Indian Sikhs come and visit their place of worship, the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the final years of his life and even to do so without visa. There were voices heard saying that even a passport was not required, only a valid ID card. Is that wise? Given the nature of our neighboring country, duly exacerbated by the behavior of its current government–seems too much. Pakistan should very much make sure who is coming and who is going. Given Indian perfidy and history of false flag operations, can we vouch for the validity of Indian IDs? The blame for violence or attacks will fall on us! Not only the blame will be laid at our doorstep but our people will suffer when terrorists are allowed in or weapons are smuggled. The BJP govt is desperate to stem the mutual trust and belief developing between muslims and Sikhs. The much touted ‘corridor of peace’ between the two arch-rivals could easily be misused as a corridor to spread disharmony. Why are we fencing our western border when we are opening up new loopholes that result in the same drama?
Apart from this dangerous element which we should guard against though the opening of the corridor was attended by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, Actor Sunny Deol, Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal. This is not a small success in a situation when the Indian government is threatening to wage war Pakistan and Azad Kashmir and is badmouthing Pakistan internationally. It goes to the credit of this government that in a situation when war was looming close in February this year and after 5th August when Kashmiri Autonomy was scrapped that this project was not axed together with so many others. Kartarpur can become a new beginning for Indo-Pak relations whenever the time is rife for it.
And there is another, an international angle to Kartarpur as well. After successfully drawing international attention to the misery of the Kashmir population on the Indian side of LoC the world now can see that Pakistan is making a credible effort to keep peace intact despite the tensions prevalent in the subcontinent right now. Whosoever cares to notice can see that Pakistan is going out of its way to make peaceful new beginnings. This should give us creditability in our endeavors to fight terrorism by a small group of radical Islam in the eyes of the world community.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.