Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan as visa-free corridor reopens

Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan, after crossing the India-Pakistan Wagah border, to attend the birth anniversary celebrations of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak. (AFP)

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SANJAY KUMAR November 17, 2021

  • Indian authorities gave green light for pilgrims to cross border ahead of 552nd birth anniversary of Guru Nanak
  • Opening of Kartarpur corridor in 2019 marked first time Indian Sikh pilgrims could enter Pakistan without visa since 1947

NEW DELHI: Sikh pilgrims from India’s Punjab started to arrive in Pakistan’s Kartarpur through a visa-free corridor on Wednesday to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Much of Sikh heritage is located in Pakistan. When Pakistan was carved out of India at the end of British rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the Pakistani side of the border, while most of the region’s Sikhs remained on the other side.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur is of particular importance to the Sikh community as it was built in tribute to Guru Nanak, who established the town of Kartarpur in 1515. It is also his final resting place.

The Pakistani government in 2019 opened the Kartarpur corridor, connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib to the border with India and allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the site. The opening of the corridor marked the first time Indian Sikh pilgrims could enter Pakistan without a visa since 1947.

The corridor was closed in March 2020 following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. While Pakistan said it had reopened the passage in June 2020, Indian authorities gave the green light for pilgrims to cross the border from Wednesday, three days before the 552nd anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak.

“The opening of the corridor is the reflection of the wishes of the people of Punjab,” Sukhdeep Singh Bedi, a Sikh community leader, told Arab News. 

“This kind of exchange between people of both nations will help create a better atmosphere between India and Pakistan,” he said, adding that he hoped the Kartarpur corridor could become a “corridor for peace and create a better understanding between both nations.” 

Sukhwinder Agwan, caretaker of a Sikh temple in Shahida village in the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib area of Punjab, said he was looking forward to reaching Pakistan on Thursday.

“This is a great move by the Indian government, a move that we have been waiting for with bated breath,” he said. “I have applied for permission to visit, and hopefully by tomorrow I should be able to travel to Kartarpur.”

A week after Pakistan urged India to reopen the corridor from its side, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday allowed Sikh pilgrims from India to participate in Guru Nanak’s celebrations in Kartarpur, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reverence for the founder of Sikhism.

Pakistan welcomed the reopening of the corridor, with its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi telling the media it “looks forward to welcoming Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the Kartarpur corridor.” 

Indian Punjab’s chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, said politicians from his state will themselves also travel to Pakistan on Thursday.

“The entire Cabinet will be part of the first jatha (group), which will visit and pay obeisance on Nov. 18,” he told reporters.

While under the present arrangement the Indian government will allow 250 people a day to visit Kartarpur, Sikh community members say there should be no restrictions. “It makes us happy that we will be able to visit Kartarpur again, but the government should be liberal in allowing people to visit the resting place of Guru Nanak,” Manmohan Singh, former chairman of the Punjab Agriculture Bank, told Arab News.

He added that he believes the decision to reopen the corridor has been taken to “win back the Sikh community.”

The move comes just months ahead of regional elections in the predominantly agricultural state of Punjab, where the majority Sikh community has been at loggerheads with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over contentious farm laws passed in September 2020.

Punjab is seen as crucial in Indian politics and if the BJP loses the local poll, it may not succeed in the next general election.

“All political parties in Punjab have welcomed the reopening of the corridor and everyone is trying to take credit for the move, but I feel that this would not be the main issue in the Punjab election. What would matter most is the issue of farmers,” political analyst Prof. Ronki Ram of the University of Punjab told Arab News. 

“I don’t think farmers will be swayed by this gesture from the BJP,” he said. “Farmers would be happy if the farm laws are repealed.”


Categories: Asia, India, Pakistan

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