A memorandum of understanding is set to be signed today between Pakistan and India for connecting Gurdaspur in India's Punjab state and Gurudwara Darbar Sahib situated in Kartarpur of Pakistan's Punjab.
With this, a long-cherished dream of followers of Sikhism on both sides is going to be realized. Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has informed that with the 550th birthday set to be celebrated on 12 November, the corridor will be opened on 9 November. The Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Kartarpur, the final resting place of the Guru lies, is just four kilometers away from the Indo-Pak border. Despite the complicated political equations - and the strained mutual relations - between India and Pakistan, the Sikhs' demand for facility of unfettered travel from the birth place of their religious guru to his cemetery and vice versa, has been raised for long from both sides. Finally the governments of both India and Pakistan recognized it and jointly built a corridor. With its inauguration slated for 9 November, Imran Khan had invited former Indian prime minister and a member of the Sikh community to the event. But in view of the worsened relations between the countries, he informed the Pak side his inability to attend the official inauguration ceremony, but at the same time consented to be part of the Indian group making it to Kartarpur. On 9 November, prime minister Narendra Modi will flag off the Indian contingent of 550 members. It is also learned that the first among the pilgrims will be Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. India has also asked Pakistan to waive the fee of USD 20 to be charged from each pilgrim.
What needs to be noted is that the construction of the Kartarpur corridor and the flow of pilgrims to follow, which can help connect the people of the two neighbours, are happening at a time when India's relations with Pakistan is at a new low. Whoever be responsible for partitioning the Indian sub-continent at the peak of a communal polarisation 70 years ago, its damage is still continuing - and even sowing further disasters. Even as the region is marked as home to the largest number of hungry people, much more attention than that is being paid to defending against terrorist threats from the neighbour and to stabilize security.
How far effective the government's decision to put an end to the Kashmir issue - that has been denying peace to India - unilaterally and permanently, and the follow-up actions are, is a matter to be proven in coming days. Even then, educational institutions in Kashmir have not been functioning with running classes for months. Hospitals, commercial establishments and all other means of living remain shut. Leaders of all political parties, except those of the central ruling party, are behind bars. If any one wants to move outdoors, he has to give it in writing with a security deposit of Rs 10,000, that he will not indulge in any political activity. Even then his freedom from jail will depend on the discretion of the authorities. And in a state which we assert over and over is an integral part of India, this denial of freedom is continuing. As for Pakistan, it has ventured to hold up this issue at internal forums with an anti-India propaganda. Indian aircraft are denied permission to overfly Pakistan territory, and even prime minister Modi's flight abroad was not granted any exception. Most recently, the postal service with India has also been suspended. This means that there is no opportunity for kith and kin across the two countries to exchange their well-being with each other even through paper. Central minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has pointed out that Pakistan's action is against the provisions of International Postal Union, but that country is unlikely to reconsider its decision. And there is no point in expecting any melting of ice, as long as terrorist attacks and consequent military actions continue at the border.
Now, if the tender shoots of goodwill sprouting through the Kartarpur corridor is to culminate in restoration of peace and true friendship, the broadmindedness of both peoples will have to rise sky-high. To pave way for that, lofty minds committed to nurturing amity will have to work hard on both sides. And those with a penchant to brand such minds as anti-national, should be identified and isolated by minds determined to achieve the desired goal. It will pay to remember that in the absence of such minds, it will not be any one particular section alone enry that pays the price but the entire citizenry.