A favourable decision appears to be likely in Pakistan to permit a corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan, which has a special meaning for the faithful as Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, lived at this shrine for a considerable period of time. India had floated such an access scheme two decades ago, and brought it up on subsequent occasions, but did not receive any clear affirmative response.
The idea has once again been revived on the diplomatic chessboard with Guru Nanak’s 550th anniversary coming up in November next year, and we may only hope that the efforts made will carry some substance.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet formally welcomed the prospect of a passage for pilgrims to the famous shrine and agreed to undertake the logistics and infrastructural work on the Indian side, starting at Nanakana Sahib in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday made a reference to some ground-breaking ritual to be undertaken by his Prime Minister later this month.
Sadly, however, the atmosphere has again been vitiated due to rough conduct by Pakistanis security officials. India on Friday lodged a “strong protest” against Pakistani security staff not letting Indian consular officials visit the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara and the Sacha Sauda Gurdwara to provide diplomatic and consular support to pilgrims from India to these shrines located in Pakistan.
This denial comes in spite of the Indian high commission in Islamabad got secured prior permission from the Pakistani authorities. India has expressed concern that its officials weren’t permitted as the ISI is engaged in open anti-India secessionist propaganda with the visiting Sikh pilgrims.
These developments come amid apprehensions that Pakistan is making a bid yet again to revive militancy in Punjab, as shown by the recent attack near Amritsar on a Nirankari sect prayer meeting, and the grenade being traceable to Pakistan.
This is the tenuous atmosphere in which a corridor to the Kartarpur gurdwara is being talked about. We can only trust that the idea will see fruition. If the Pakistani authorities are more helpful, an authentic meaning can be imparted to the idea of people-to-people contacts, as exemplified by the case of the famous progressive poetess of Pakistan, the Meerut-born Fehmida Riaz, who sadly passed away in Lahore on Thursday.
During the Zia dictatorship Riaz had spent seven years in India, some as poet-laureate at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia university. Her unforgettably warm but taunting poem on India — Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle (You turned out just like us) — when egregious episodes under the present government here began coming to light, is the stuff of good fellowship. We need to revive that spirit.