After Kartarpur, Pakistan looks at opening pilgrim corridor to Sharada Peeth in PoK

Shubhajit Roy
Pakistani media reported Monday that Islamabad has given the green signal for the move. (File)

After Kartarpur, Pakistan is proposing to open a corridor to the 5,000-year-old Sharada temple, which was once a centre of learning believed to have been established by Emperor Ashoka. The site, also known as Sharada Peeth, is located on the banks of the Neelum river over 100 km from Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Pakistani media reported Monday that Islamabad has given the green signal for the move. TV channel Express News quoted sources in the Pakistan government to report that India's foreign ministry had already sent a proposal to open this corridor. "After Kartarpur, a piece of big news is in the offing for Hindus. Some of the government officials will visit the area and will later submit a report to the prime minister," said a report in Express Tribune, a leading English daily in Pakistan, citing sources in the Pakistan foreign ministry.

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Responding to these reports, Indian government sources said: "India had made this request several times as part of the Composite Dialogue between India and Pakistan. The proposal was made keeping in mind the wishes and religious sentiments of people." On December 20, 2018, MoS (External Affairs) V K Singh had told Rajya Sabha: "The issue of religious tourism to Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) has been raised from time to time. The Joint Statement issued following the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan on 27 July 2011, inter-alia stated that travel across the Line of Control would be expanded to include visits for tourism and religious pilgrimage. India has proposed pilgrim's visit to shrines in PoJK, including Sharada Peeth. Pakistan has not concurred with the proposal so far."

India accused Pakistan of usurping gurdwara land, double-speak.

On Monday, Express News quoted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Vankwani as saying: "Pakistan has decided to open the Sharada temple. I am going to visit the place in a couple of days. I will also send a report in this regard to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Work on the project will start from the current year after which Hindus in Pakistan will also be able to visit the site."

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The Sharada Peeth is believed to have been established in 237 BC during the reign of Ashoka. It was considered one of the most important seats of learning in South Asia, like Nalanda and Takshashila, where religion, philosophy, contemporary literature and astronomy were taught.

According to Express Tribune, this landmark is "in ruins" due to lack of maintenance and is in urgent need of restoration after being severely damaged by the 2005 earthquake. The proposal to open the new corridor comes in the backdrop of meetings between Indian and Pakistani officials over the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims. Serious differences emerged during the first meeting on February 14, with the next scheduled on April 2.