Washington, DC – The United States welcomed on Thursday (November 29) the facilitation of visits of Sikh pilgrims from India to a shrine in Pakistan with the construction of a new border entry point and road.
Answering a question from IAT, Robert Palladino, Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department confirmed that the US was “aware of the reports of this Kartarpur corridor.”
Palladino was addressing journalists at the State Department briefing. Welcoming the move, Palladino said, “It’s kind of a visa-free way for Indians to visit this important Sikh site,” stressing, “And of course, the United States – we would welcome efforts to increase people-to-people ties between India and Pakistan.”
The agreed construction of ”Kartarpur corridor” which will have a new border entry point and road to allow Sikh pilgrims a direct access to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur – one of the holiest shrines for Sikhism – will lead from the Indian border straight to the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple), with the sides fenced off.
The move, which was welcomed enthusiastically by the Sikh community worldwide, represented a much-needed instance of co-operation between the two countries who have fought three wars against each other since independence.
Delhi said it would fully fund construction of the new road on the Indian side, and Islamabad said it would do the same on its side. Pakistan announced the start of the construction on its side of the road later this month but the Indian side is yet to announce any such date.
Festive Pakistani Move
There was a festive atmosphere as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan attended a ceremony formally starting construction work on the pathway on the Pakistani side of the border. Addressing the gathering, Khan said: “We will only progress when we free ourselves from the chains of the past.”
Also present on the occasion were Indian federal ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, and provincial Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu, an international cricketer of repute, is a close friend of Pakistani Prime Minister Khan.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called the decision a “victory for the peace lobby” in both countries. Commenting on the border crossing facilities, federal Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that pilgrims to the Gurdwara would be given “facilities similar to those of an international airport.”
BJP Hindutva Factor
There was, however, a cold shoulder given from the federal Indian government of Narendra Modi led Hindu nationalist party of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj of the BJP, denied the chances that ”bilateral dialogue will start”, adding: “Terror and talks cannot go together. The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, bilateral dialogue can start.”
Commenting on such mixed signals from India, Rajesh Sundaram, an eminent journalist and political pundit told IAT: “On the one hand two ministers of the Modi government attend the function in Pakistan. On the other hand India’s foreign minister Swaraj announced an emphatic “no” to attending the SAARC or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit.”
Ironically the negation from the Indian federal minister came on a day her two colleagues – two federal ministers and Punjab minister Sidhu attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan.
Pointing out the confusion in the BJP’s Modi government, Sundaram added, “Modi government does not know how to respond. It’s core Hindutva constituency does not want any contact with Pakistan. But if they had refused to accept the Pakistani offer on Kartarpur Corridor, they would upset the Sikh electorate.”
With the elections looming in 2019, Modi’s BJP party is unable to do so. But as a shrewd politician Modi is watching that cricketer-turned politician Sidhu, who supported the Kartarpur Corridor from the outset, doesn’t get crowned with the success on the subject. “Modi is working overtime to ensure Navjot Sidhu does not take all the credit,” added Sundaram.
The Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib was built on the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, died in the 16th Century. The Gurdwara is located only around 2.5 miles from the border with India, but tensions between the two nuclear-powered neighbors have made it impossible for the Sikh pilgrims to visit easily.
Sikhism, followed by more than 25 million people around the world, was born in Punjab, a region that was divided between the two countries during partition in 1947. The religion’s founder, Guru Nanak, spent the last 18 years of his life there. The corridor is scheduled to formally open next year, in time for the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth.