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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Kartarpur corridor to remain open for Sikhs despite India tensions

Fears of the historic Kartarpur initiative being affected arise after Pakistani PM Imran Khan announced that Pakistan would be downgrading diplomatic ties with India among a host of other measures after the scrapping of Article 370 on Monday.

News Desk |

In a press conference on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced his government’s unbroken resolve to continue the Kartarpur effort to accommodate thousands of religious tourists every day to allow them to see one of the holiest sites in their religion. He said that the initiative was a sincere action on the part of the Pakistanis to open the country up to the respected members of the Sikh community and there was no “design” or ulterior motive behind the move, which is why despite India’s baseless aggression, Pakistan would not give in to hatred and divisiveness.

FM Qureshi also reiterated that “we respect all religions and do not want to place any restrictions on people-to-people contact.” He said that Pakistan’s initial commitment stands in its entirety, and that it should be the Indian government that the Sikh community should be questioning on its resolve to continue the Kartarpur corridor project. He questioned the motives behind why the Indians had finally agreed to the project after it had been shelved for nearly two decades, and that if they had not done so because of optics and public pressure then they would stand by their promise to let Sikhs perform their religious pilgrimage.

The FWO is the brainchild of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers, who in 1966 felt the need to create a new organization specially equipped to deal with the mammoth task of constructing the Karakoram Highway.

FM Qureshi’s statement will dissipate many worries in the Sikh community and exemplify Pakistan’s noble resolve in dealing with matters of such religious significance.

The Kartarpur corridor was constructed largely by the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) on the Pakistani side. The FWO was the primary contractor for this project in light of its unmatched experience in similar projects; it has been primarily or partially responsible for the Karachi-Hyderabad motorway, Lyari Expressway and countless other projects around the country. The FWO is the brainchild of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers, who in 1966 felt the need to create a new organization specially equipped to deal with the mammoth task of constructing the Karakoram Highway.

Since successfully executing those unprecedented feet of engineering, the FWO has been indispensable to the country’s infrastructure needs. It is hard to envision a project of such economic and strategic importance, bound to a strict time frame of completion, being undertaken without the professional experience of the FWO.

Read more: Kartarpur Corridor: Pakistan welcomes first batch of Sikh Pilgrims

Fears in Indian Punjab over the Kartarpur Corridor

Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of the Indian province of Punjab, had expressed concern on Wednesday over the completion of the historic initiative of the Kartarpur corridor. Amidst renewed tensions between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue after India’s decision to unilaterally annex the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) on Monday through a series of constitutional amendments and corollary bills.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a crucial meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) attended by key civil and military leadership. Many decisions were made during the meeting, including suspending all bilateral trade between the two countries and taking the matter up seriously with the United Nations.

Soon after the decision to downgrade diplomatic ties was taken at the same meeting, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria was expelled by Islamabad in protest of the aggressive and illegal actions undertaken by India to annex IOK. This raised fears in India, especially in Punjab and amongst the Sikh community, that the Kartarpur corridor initiative would be affected.

The chief minister stated that he hoped these “would not affect the Kartarpur corridor and Pakistan would not hurt Sikh sentiments by putting the much-awaited corridor on hold.”

The agreement between India and Pakistan to jointly build the Kartarpur Corridor to mark the historic occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak had been celebrated and lauded by Sikhs in India and all over the world and any move now to stop the project in its tracks would leave millions of potential “Yatrees” (pilgrims) disappointed.

Read more: US hails ‘people-to-people ties’ through Kartarpur Corridor

The Gurdwara in Pakistan that so many pilgrims wanted to visit was the last place that Guru Nanak resided in and the site where he passed away. He spent years here with his followers after nomadic travels around the Indian subcontinent to spread his message. It is, therefore, one of the holiest places for the Sikh community. Pakistan had promised that it would host up to 5000 pilgrims visa-free every single day and make adequate arrangements for their transport, accommodation, food, drink and fulfillment of religious duties.

The Governor of the Pakistani Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar, had also announced last month that the Kartarpur Gurdwara was being allotted additional land for cultivation and various purposes and that the government along with the Frontier Works Organization was ensuring a smooth completion of the corridor as a priority.

The Chief Minister said that political considerations should not be allowed to disregard the sincere religious convictions of the Sikhs, for whom Kartarpur Gurdwara is a symbol of ancient reverence.