Kartarpur: A corridor of peace | HT editorial
Any attempt to fan separatism by Pakistan will undo this move
After months of negotiations and apprehensions on the Indian side about its misuse by elements in Pakistan, the Kartarpur corridor, which will allow Indian pilgrims to make visa-free visits to the gurdwara built in Pakistan at the site where Guru Nanak spent the final years of his life, has been thrown open. That the two countries were able to make progress on this project in a year of heightened tensions is all the more surprising and welcome. Visits by pilgrims of both sides, made possible by a protocol signed by the two countries in 1974, are among the few people-to-people contacts that have survived the tensions that have characterised bilateral relations in recent years. It is significant that India signed the agreement for the Kartarpur corridor despite misgivings about several issues, including Pakistan’s decision to levy a service fee of $20 on the pilgrims. To give Pakistan its due, it did agree to India’s urging that pilgrims should be allowed to travel using passports and OCI cards and that the corridor shouldn’t be restricted to Sikhs.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan used the opening of the corridor to make a fresh plea for resolving the Kashmir issue. That Mr Khan did so without raking up fears of a nuclear exchange, as he had done in recent speeches, was significant. However, it appears unlikely that the two sides will get back to the negotiating table till Pakistan gets down to the task of taking action against the numerous United Nations-designated terrorist leaders and groups operating from its soil. In that sense, the opening of the corridor only represents a chance to dispel the pessimism on both sides by acting as a corridor of peace.
Given the Pakistan Army’s role in all matters in the neighbouring country, including the construction of infrastructure and renovation of the Darbar Sahib gurdwara at Kartarpur, sections of the Indian government will continue to eye the corridor with caution. Much damage has already been done by the presence of pro-Khalistan elements at Pakistani shrines frequented by Indian Sikh pilgrims, though Indian officials acknowledge this is now on the decline. Any move to leverage the corridor to fan separatism in Indian Punjab will undo whatever good has been done by the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor.