The corridor will enable pilgrims from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, in the Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province, just 4.5 km from the border, near Dera Baba Nanak in the Indian state of Punjab.
It is meant to enable pilgrims to access the Sikh shrine throughout the year via the Kartarpur corridor to pay their respects at the shrine in Pakistan.
The partitioning of India in 1947 left Punjab, where Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the 15th century amid the Muslim conquest of the region, divided between India and Pakistan. Approximately 75% of the total Sikh population of the world lives in Indian Punjab, while an influx of Muslims made Pakistani Punjab the country's most populous province, with over 110 million people. Sikhs who revere Guru Nanak had been finding it difficult to visit the shrine due to the contentious relations between the two rival countries.
Despite an agreement signed between India and Pakistan five decades ago, only a limited number of Indian devotees could visit the resting place of the founder of Sikhism, who remains a strong binding force for both the countries, even after seven decades of separation.
The Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara is one of the holiest places for Sikhs, as well as millions of devotees of Nanak known as ‘Nanak Naam Leva’.
About the Peace Corridor
Located at 4.5 kilometres from the international border in Pakistan’s Narowal District, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is the place where Guru Nanak, lived the final 18 years of his life, dying in 1539.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan broke ground on the Kartarpur Corridor Project on 28 November, 2018. Despite a near war-like situation between the two nuclear-armed nations that has persisted since February of this year, the religious project was completed within a year.
Spreading over 333 hectares, the project comprises the Gurdwara complex, which spreads over an area of 42 hectares, and is slated to be increased to 133 hectares.
The Kartarpur Corridor Project includes a border terminal, a 800 metre-long bridge over the Ravi River, 2.8 km of flood protection earthworks, and a 262 metre-long bridge at Zero Point (the International Border) over Budhi Ravi creek.
Pakistan has established a 4,800 square metre immigration terminal which has 76 counters to facilitate the arrival of pilgrims from India to visit the shrine. A total of 5,000 pilgrims can visit the site daily after paying a $20 fee at an immigration counter.
As per the Agreement signed on 24 October, the travel will be visa-free; however, the pilgrims need to carry valid passports. The Corridor will remain open from dawn until dusk. Pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return on the same day.
New Delhi’s Concerns
Since the announcement of Pakistan's Kartarpur Corridor Project, India has been eyeing it apprehensively for hidden motives, especially given the Pakistani military's role in its promotion.
Indian intelligence, as per local media, claimed there are some terrorist groups in the area who could create serious problems for the Indian security.
"On the one hand, Pakistan is seemingly showing us compassion and humanity, and on the other, they (Pakistan) seem intent on using the corridor to woo the Indian Sikhs to promote the Inter Service Intelligence-backed 2020 Khalistan Referendum and create sleeper cells here (in India)," said Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Indian state of Punjab, on Thursday.
His remarks came after an official video released by Pakistan government featured a poster of a banned Khalistani secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice, which is pushing for 'Sikh Referendum 2020' as part of its separatist agenda.
India's foreign ministry lodged a strong protest with the Pakistan side on this matter.
“We have been assured repeatedly by the Pakistani side…they will not allow any anti-India elements, anti-India propaganda during the pilgrimage…they should now stick to the spirit…,” the ministry’s spokesperson stated in the latest development.
Moral Victory for Pakistan
Nevertheless, Pakistan's foreign ministry claimed the allegation is part of a “malicious propaganda’ in India that cannot be condemned enough.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Khan also showed the world that he wants peace and more interpersonal contact between the two countries. He has emphasised that despite his efforts, it is India which is not supporting his move to bring peace and prosperity to South Asia.
With the opening of world’s largest Gurdwara for the world, Imran Khan has also tried to silence many of his critics. It has been alleged that Pakistan is unsafe for minorities or doesn’t care for minorities’ welfare following reports of Sikh girl’s abduction and forcible marriage, or rape or Hindus’ murders.
“Religious tourism is on the rise in Pakistan, earlier Buddhist monks visited various sites for religious rituals followed by opening of Kartarpur Corridor,” Imran Khan stated on 21 October while adding the Kartarpur Corridor will become a major religious hub for the Sikh community, and boost the local economy, resulting in foreign exchange for the country and creating jobs in different sectors including travel and hospitality.
Devotion Overwhelms Acrimony of Near War-Like Situation
Devotion Overwhelms Acrimony of Near War-Like Situation
‘Nanak Naam Leva’ are not only from Sikh religion but it comprises followers from other religion as well.
Nanak Naam Leva, comprising devotees of all faiths, believes that Kartarpur is the place where first Sikh shrine (Gurdwara) was established by Guru Nanak to spread message of equality and serve the poor across the religion. Guru Nanak also chose his successor Guru Angad as the second guru of Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion.
A popular belief goes among “Nanak Naam Leva” just as Guru Nanak died his body had turned into flowers as member of Hindu and Muslim communities quarrelled over the process of his last rites. Guru Nanak’s Hindu devotees wanted to cremate his body while Muslim devotees wanted to bury him.
Prime Minister, shall, prior to this,pay obeisance at Ber Sahib Gurudwara at Sultanpur Lodhi.— PMO India (@PMOIndia) November 8, 2019
India and Pakistan governments resolutely decided to continue their dialogue to complete the project on the scheduled time unmindful of the growing tension on borders over Kashmir dispute.
India Gives In to Devotees’ Demand
India's foreign ministry, on several occasions, admitted that the corridor has been opened to respect “the sentiments of the Sikh community and members of other religions, as it involves a matter of faith”.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry has stated Pakistan should not use this corridor to propagate anti-India sentiment.
“We have been repeatedly assured by the Pakistani side during discussions that they will not allow anti-India elements or anti-India propaganda during the pilgrimage and during the event. They should now stick to the spirit under which they have agreed to this,” the Indian foreign ministry’s spokesperson Raveesh Kumar stated on Thursday.
Besides showing respect to over 120-150 million Sikhs and other Nanak followers throughout the world, Pakistan Prime Minister Khan has also addressed domestic constituencies; there are around 800,000 Nanak followers in Pakistan, living in three out of Pakistan's four provinces: Balochistan, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as in remote areas of Punjab province.
They are mostly Muslims; Pakistan's Sikh population has dwindled to only around 20,000-25,000, according to Amardeep Singh, researcher and author of 'Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan'.
Nevertheless, the beginning and completion of the corridor is nothing less than a wonder, as the two countries have remained on the brink of war since February this year, when the Indian Air Force carried out aerial strike against alleged terrorist targets in Balakot, inside Pakistan.