Lahore: Where politics has failed and trade is a non-starter, faith seems to have done the trick for India and Pakistan—still the wrangles continued on Friday.
Amid high tension, the only point of friendly contact between the two countries, with the potential to foster a degree of people-to-people ties, seemed to be the Kartarpur Corridor.
The corridor, which will allow Indian pilgrims to travel by road to Pakistan to visit a revered shrine, will open on Saturday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan will preside over separate ceremonies in their respective countries to mark the event.
But less than 12 hours before the event, India and Pakistan were locked in a dispute over the details of travel.
According to a Pakistan government spokesperson, Mohammad Faisal, Khan “as a special gesture" had waived the requirements of passport and registration of pilgrims 10 days in advance. “Unfortunately, the Indian side has declined these facilitative measures," said Faisal.
Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday that India will stick to the terms of the pact signed in October to allow the pilgrims to use their passports as an identity document for visa-free travel across the corridor.
Significantly, Khan had tweeted last Friday that the two courtesies will be extended to “Sikh" pilgrims. In India, this is seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between Sikh and non-Sikh pilgrims.
The corridor has long been in the works—New Delhi had sought the opening of a corridor way back in 1999—but it was only last year that the two sides agreed to build the road to connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab with the Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district.
The shrine in Pakistan is revered by Sikhs, as well as people of other faiths, as the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
India and Pakistan have a bilateral pact, signed in 1974, which allows Indians and Pakistanis to visit each other’s shrines. On the India side, the Ajmer Sharif Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti, and the dargahs of Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusro in New Delhi are included in this agreement.
Similarly, Indian delegations have visited the Katasraj Dham Temple in Lahore and several Gurudwaras—Nankana Sahib and Panja Sahib (both in Rawalpindi) and Dera Sahib in Lahore.
Speculation has it that Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Kartarpur was left out due to an oversight. The pact to open the corridor was finally signed in October.
The launch is happening despite tensions between India and Pakistan—first over the Pulwama suicide blast in February that saw aerial strikes by the two countries, and then after India’s move to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August.
“One can’t say what could happen in the future. Right now, the only point of friendly contact between the two sides is Kartarpur," said Dilip Sinha, a former Indian foreign ministry official, who was in charge of the Pakistan desk.
“If anything (positive) happens here on, one could say that Kartarpur Sahib was the start of the process of the thaw."
“We hope this will lead to some degree of peace," said one person familiar with the developments, requesting anonymity. “But this can happen only when Pakistan ends terrorism as a policy against India."
In recent months, there has been some let-up in anti-India activities in the Gurudwaras in Pakistan, the person added. But New Delhi was unsure whether this meant a change in policy or was it just a temporary lull in such activities.
Only if Pakistan can visibly demonstrate that it has renounced its policy of the use of terrorism against India can New Delhi think of opening any kind of dialogue, he said.