New Delhi: The Kartarpur Corridor was approved by the union cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 22 November, 2018. It will connect the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, in Pakistan’s Kartarpur village, with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
A year on, after much deliberations and diplomatic roadblocks between the governments of India and Pakistan, the corridor will finally be opened in a grand ceremony on 9 November.
The Kartarpur Sahib is one of the holiest shrines for the Sikhs and making a pilgrimage to it is considered a religious duty by the community. But unabated tension between India and Pakistan since Partition had made it nearly impossible for Indian Sikhs to make this pilgrimage.
Navjot Sidhu’s suggestion to Qamar Javed Bajwa
In February, 1999, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had proposed a corridor linking the two shrines, that stand opposite to each other, by building a road across the international border. The proposal was made during Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan as a peace initiative with his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
Later, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also took the issue up with then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf around 2005-06 but Islamabad had failed to take the talks forward.
Plans for a corridor were renewed again after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in August 2018, suggested, soon after assuming office, that he would like to build the corridor. It all began when Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, who attended Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, spoke about the Indian Sikh community’s desire to visit Kartarpur with Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Khan subsequently laid the foundation stone for the corridor on 28 November last year, promising to ready it by 12 November, 2019, that marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Prior to it, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu had also laid the foundation stone at the Dera Baba Nanak site on 26 November.
The corridor was proposed as a road link and a bridge, allowing pilgrims of all religions to visit the shrine. While initially only meant for Sikh pilgrims, India later insisted that the corridor should be allowed for people of all religions.
The work on the 4.19 km-long corridor started on 13 December, 2018. Additionally, a Passenger Terminal Building and an Integrated Check Post (ICP) are also being constructed at the international border in an area of about 50 acres by the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI).
An agreement for the corridor was finally signed on 24 October, 2019, between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Foreign Office of Pakistan.
Kartarpur talks continued despite Pulwama, Balakot, Article 370
The corridor has come about at a time when tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations are probably at its peak. In the past year, ever since India and Pakistan laid foundation stones for the corridor, there have been numerous occasions when conflict between the two countries have escalated and threatened to derail plans for the corridor.
The biggest threat came after 14 February this year when 40 CRPF personnel were killed in a terrorist attack that was reportedly carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. India consequently conducted airstrikes on 26 February in Pakistan’s Balakot, targeting JeM camps.
While India had not been engaging in any dialogue with Pakistan for more than three years since September 2016 (after the Uri terror attack), tensions rose to an unprecedented level after the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, as well as bifurcation of the state into two union territories.
Islamabad threatened India with a nuclear war even as it tried to garner international pressure on New Delhi for restoration of status quo.
Pakistan had even tried to mobilise support from its all-weather ally China, which, in turn, had brought the issue up at the United Nations in a closed-door meeting in order for the UN Security Council to discuss the matter. Islamabad also talked about it with Washington as US President Donald Trump offered to “mediate” between India and Pakistan.
Talks on the Kartarpur Corridor, however, continued between both governments despite the tensions and notwithstanding the Imran Khan-led government’s move of downgrading diplomatic ties with India by expelling the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria in August.
Genesis of Kartarpur Corridor
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak had spent his final 18 years preaching and farming at Kartarpur village in Pakistan. The gurdwara that was built there after his death was destroyed by floods and then rebuilt in the 1920s by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh — grandfather of current Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
CM Singh had last December demanded swapping a piece of land in India with the area on which Kartarpur Sahib is located by passing a resolution in the Punjab Assembly. The proposal was rejected by Pakistan.
This was, however, not the first time that India had attempted such a move. In 1969, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had also floated a similar proposal during Guru Nanak’s 500th birth anniversary and promised the same to the Punjab government. This had been a demand of the Sikh community since Partition.
In 1948, the Akali Dal had also passed a resolution merging the lands of Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur. The demand was raised in 1959 too by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the chief khalsa diwan who insisted that India should get back the gurdwara land.