A curious pact
Notwithstanding the fact that tensions have been peaking lately between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the neighbours, although at loggerheads, are set to sign the agreement that will govern the operations of the visa-free Kartarpur Corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan. The interesting facts include that this development goes ahead in spite of Pakistan refusing to waive a 20 dollar (that amounts to Rs 1,420) service fee on Indian pilgrims to visit the gurdwara which is physically visible from across the border in Indian Punjab. It is widely observed that Pakistan has been "rigid" and "inflexible" in its "unreasonable" demand. The corridor project seeks to connect the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur. The impetus for such a move has been the Sikh pilgrims' sentiments that India has decided to proceed with the Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan. Due discussions have centred around the notion that such a fee is not in the interest of the pilgrims but Pakistan remains adamant on its stand and refuses to budge. Slated to be signed on October 23, in the context of Kartarpur agreement between India and Pakistan, the Ministry of External Affairs expressed through an official statement that "If Pakistan wants to levy a service charge despite India's objections, India will go ahead with the Kartarpur Corridor agreement keeping religious sentiments and longstanding demand in mind." The government has taken the due initiative to deploy the state of art infrastructure and open the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on the grand occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev so that the pilgrims from India and those holding Overseas Citizen of India Card can undertake the pilgrimage to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. Although "India would be ready to amend the Agreement accordingly at any time", as per the Ministry, the disappointment in Pakistan over the pilgrimage charge has not deterred India from going ahead with the deal on the grounds of sacrosanct religious sentiments of the Sikhs but a question nonetheless rears its head: why the insistence on a communal matter with a rigid country with whom India is having a major discord with and at a time when India should concern itself with equal amount of dedication the more urgent matters such as the ailing economy.
The sight in the context is of the significance that the Kartarpur gurdwara was built to commemorate the site where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak settled after his missionary work. Kartarpur lies in the Narowal district of Punjab province of Pakistan. The corridor is a proposed border corridor nearing its completion between the adamantly disagreeing neighbouring nations of India and Pakistan. This project seeks to connect the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib located on the India side of Punjab and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Punjab of Pakistan. The purpose of this initiative is to facilitate pilgrimages from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometres from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa. This is not the first time that such an initiative has been undertaken—the project was first proposed in early 1999 by the then Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif as part of the Delhi-Lahore Bus diplomacy. From the pre-Kargil time, the Kartarpur Corridor project was an initiative to bring the two neighbours closer. Certainly, after the Government of India's August 5 decision to radically alter the status of J&K, times are very different now, especially when matters have been compounded in the wake of Pathankot, Pulwama, and Balakot strikes. The equation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours has changed more than drastically. Adding to this list is the latest episodes of cease fire violations along the Line of Control and striking terror targets across the border. Knowing that war and peace cannot coexist, India went ahead with its Kartarpur ambition on November 26, 2018, and laid the foundation stone for the corridor on the Indian side. Two days later the same was replicated on the Pakistani side. Considering diplomatic niceties, the incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan compared the decision by the two countries to proceed with the corridor to the fall of the Berlin Wall, expressing that this project may help ease tensions between the two neighbours. But it remains to be clarified how such lofty ideas may be materialised when the neighbouring nations are actually at a diplomatic standoff on matters as grave and deep-seated as Kashmir and terrorism. Not only does this corridor project pose as a security threat, it also betrays a kind of diplomatic double standard where there is no scope of talks on one end while on the other, developments are scaled. Presumably, not exclusively for the religious sentiments of the Sikhs of India, the Kartarpur pact will be a major milestone in the diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan.