In recent weeks, the media and policy makers in South Asia, and outside, have been closely following developments pertaining to the Kartarpur Corridor. The Corridor, opened despite tensions between India and Pakistan over the past year, and was inaugurated on 09 November on the Indian side by PM, Narendra Modi and on the Pakistani side by Imran Khan.
This Corridor will enable devotees of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev, to pay obeisance, sans a visa, at the holy shrine of Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur, Narowal district, Pakistan). Guru Nanak, spent the last 17 years of his life at Kartarpur (which he founded), and propagated the Sikh faith here along with his followers (Sikhs the world over, commemorated Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary on November 12, 2019, and this made the inauguration even more significant). The Corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak (Panjab, India) with Kartarpur, which is barely 5 kilometres.
Inauguration on November 9, 2019
According to the agreement, signed between both countries, those wanting to use the Corridor will need to present their passport (a number of individuals and groups have stated that a considerable number of ordinary citizens do not possess passports, thus they will be unable to pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib). The number of individuals crossing over through the Corridor has been low ever since the inauguration, the need to present a passport, as well as other logistical issues (including complicated paper work) have been cited as reasons for the same. Interestingly, November 9, 2019 was also the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While analysts and politicians were cautious about the impact of the corridor on bilateral relations, a number of references were made to the fact that the corridor was being inaugurated on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaking before the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor stated that if the Berlin wall could collapse, porous borders between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out.
International focus on Kartarpur
It is interesting to note that the corridor which is an important step at a time, when diplomatic ties are rock bottom between India and Pakistan, is being watched closely by the US and China.
A large number of Sikhs paying obeisance, will actually be from different parts of the world – including the US. A large number of individuals who have been lobbying not just for the Corridor, but greater access to other Sikh shrines in Pakistan, are also US citizens. From a geopolitical standpoint, the Corridor is an important confidence building measure between both countries, and the US which has been urging restraint has made this point in some recent statements
The US State Department had welcomed the signing of the Kartarpur Agreement in October 2019. The US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus dubbed the Kartarpur project as ‘impressive’ and an important step towards ‘promoting greater religious freedom. The State Department Spokesperson also said, ‘…This impressive project will transform a remote, three-acre site across a sensitive international boundary. Congratulations to India and Pakistan on this initiative’
China too has welcomed the Kartarpur Corridor Initiative. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in an interaction with the media on November 11, stated that China welcomed such ‘good interactions’ between both countries. Geng Shuang also hoped that both countries would resolve differences through dialogue, and work towards regional peace.
Speeches at the Inauguration of the Corridor
Washington, Beijing and other countries would also pay close attention to some of the speeches made at the inauguration on the Pakistan side. One of the important issues raised was the need for more porous borders between the two Punjabs. Navjot Singh Sidhu, a former Minister from the state of Panjab (India) who has been credited by many for giving a fillip to the Corridor, through his personal friendship with Imran Khan, during his speech hailed Imran Khan for agreeing to set up the Kartarpur Corridor, which was a long standing demand of the Sikh community. Sidhu also praised Indian PM, Narendra Modi, and said that the opening of the Corridor was also a balm for both Punjab’s which had borne the brunt of partition. He stated that it was important now to build on this spirit of bonhomie, and enhance economic linkages between India and Pakistan in general, and the two Punjabs in particular. Earlier efforts, had been made to strengthen economic links and people-to-people ties between both the Punjabs, but strained ties between New Delhi and Islamabad have acted as an impediment. Now with the opening of the Corridor, it has been argued that in spite of the tensions between both countries, Punjab-Punjab linkages could get a fillip.
While the Pakistani PM referred to the Kashmir issue during his speech, he also spoke about the importance of economic linkages between both countries, and the need for both countries to fight poverty.
In conclusion, while expectations from the Corridor to improve bilateral ties is realistic, and this is clearly evident from the views of strategic analysts and journalists, even political leaders. Former PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh (who was part of the first group from India which paid obeisance at Kartarpur) while welcoming the Kartarpur Corridor noted that the India-Pakistan relationship is ‘… subject to many buts and ifs’.
Yet, sane voices within South Asia would be hoping that this initiative paves the way for a more harmonious bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad. The US and China, along with many other countries, too, would be observing the overall impact of the corridor on ties between New Delhi and Islamabad, and whether it can result not just in reduction of tensions, but closer economic linkages and greater people to people ties.
Image credit: PM Narendra Modi via Twitter
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.