A distance of just four kilometres separates Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan from India. But it would be wrong to measure the distance in numerical value.
It has taken a wait of several decades and uncountable hours of prayers for the Sikhs to hear about the day when they could finally be allowed to walk on foot over the small stretch of land that has remained a tedious journey since the Partition of 1947.
Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, located at Narowal district in Pakistan, around 128 kilometres from Lahore, is revered by Sikhs across the globe because Guru Nanak Dev is believed to have breathed his last here on 22 September 1539. His samadhi and grave are laid here as per Hindu and Muslim traditions respectively.
As the two countries inch closer to holding another round of talks for opening the corridor that would allow Sikhs from India to walk to Kartarpur Sahib, emotions are running high in the Sikh community. They feel that their prayers have been answered.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Attari-Wagah land crossing on 14 July.
The meeting would discuss the draft agreement on the modalities for movement of pilgrims along the Kartarpur corridor and resolve outstanding technical issues related to alignment and infrastructure along the corridor.
Though technical-level talks on plans to construct the corridor have been taking place, there has been only one round of discussions on what papers the pilgrims would carry and how many would be able to travel in a group.
The first round of meetings on the corridor was held on 14 March at Attari in Punjab, exactly a month after the Pulwama terror attack.
Speaking exclusively to The Quint, senior office-bearers in the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) have confirmed that 80 percent of the work of the corridor has already been completed, and they plan to open it on 2 November, a few days before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
“We have set up a deadline to complete the work by 31 October. Around 1,400 acres of land has been acquired for the corridor that would have facilities like a walking track for pedestrians, dispensaries, immigration counter, holy pond and accommodation facilities for devotees, and also langar (community kitchen) for them,” said Ramesh Singh Arora, member of PSGPC, adding that the total length of the corridor is around 4.2 kilometres.
He further made it clear that an entry pass would be required to visit the shrine instead of a visa.
“It will remain open across the year for the pilgrims who want to visit the shrine and not just restricted to holy days in the calendar,” he added.
‘Will Normalise Strained Relations’
The work for the construction of the corridor to connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to Kartarpur Sahib began last year after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the corridor on 28 November.
Cricketer-turned-politician Navjyot Singh Sidhu, along with Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had also attended the ceremony. Two days earlier, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu had laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Mann, a village in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) believes that the corridor will improve relations between the two countries.
“Preparations are in full swing for the corridor and we believe that it will normalise the strained relations between the neighbours. We are also gearing up to welcome the international nagar kirtan (procession) that will be taken out from Nankana Sahib in Pakistan on 25 July and will cross the border on the same day. The nagar kirtan will conclude at Gurdwara Ber Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi in India after covering 17 states in 100 days,” said Mohinder Singh, Secretary, SGPC.
But not all are convinced in Pakistan that the corridor would foster harmonious relations with their neighbour.
“The Kartarpur Corridor, even though it was meant to build bridges between India and Pakistan, remains a largely symbolic gesture. The fissures between the two neighbours are too deep for such initiatives. Until a breakthrough in relations is achieved, I fear the corridor will make no difference,” said Irfan Husain, a columnist with Dawn, and author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.
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