Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s trip to Pakistan to attend Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony in his ‘personal’ capacity has led to more arguments than solutions. The cricketer-turned-politician was made to sit next to PoK President Masood Khan leading to a controversy back home but his ‘hug’ to Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa made more headlines.
Sidhu was slammed for his ‘hugplomacy’ by Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. “Everyday our jawans are getting martyred. To hug their Chief General Bajwa…I am against this,” he said while adding that it was wrong on Sidhu’s behalf to have shown affection for the Pakistan Army Chief.
Sidhu, on the other hand, has justified the hug saying that there was nothing else he could have done when Qamar Javed Bajwa told him “we belong to the same culture” and talked about of opening the route to the historic Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.
Even as a case has been filed against Sidhu in a Bihar court for allegedly insulting the Indian Army by hugging Pakistan’s Army Chief, his explanation has diverted the arguments towards the Sikh pilgrim corridor, at least for now.
As per Sidhu’s claims, Bajwa has proposed that Pakistan would open a corridor on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year which would lead to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district. The gurudwara is built at the site of the final resting place of the first Sikh Guru, just across the border from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.
Importance of the Gurudwara
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib stands on the bank of Ravi which is about 120 km northeast of Lahore. It is believed that Guru Nanak had assembled the Sikh community here and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539. While the shrine is visible from the Indian side, the Pakistan authorities have to trim the elephant grass to clear the view. Indian Sikhs gather in large numbers for darshan from the Indian side, and binoculars are installed at Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak.
It was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999. Since then, thousands of pilgrims visit it on a regular basis. The devotees got a major boost by the historic bus trip to Lahore by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February 1999 and there are no restrictions on visiting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib once a pilgrim has entered Pakistan on a valid visa.
The Sikh jathas visit Pakistan four times in a year – for Baisakhi, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev – and have been given access to all gurudwaras.
Significance of Sikh corridor
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and political leaders have been demanding a corridor for a long time bow which will allow pilgrims to cross over into Pakistan to visit the Kartarpur Sahib shrine, and return the same day. For this, a bridge has to be constructed over Ravi and no passports or visas will be needed. The demand was recently placed before Parliamentary Standing Committee that visited Dera Baba Nanak last year
What’s there for Pakistan?
While on one hand it is believed that the corridor will bring the two nuclear-nations closer and improve relations between them, it would also bring Pakistan infrastructure right up to the Indian border. Over the years, Pakistan has used the gurudwaras for a pro-Khalistan campaign and earlier this year, one of them even displayed posters and distributed pamphlets for the so-called “Sikh Referendum 2020”.
At the same time, India also remains suspicious of Pakistan’s intentions and believe that Pakistan could misuse the corridor for its gains.