With the birth anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith around the corner, thousands of Sikh pilgrims still await the reopening of the Kartarpur Corridor by the Indian government.
The corridor remains shut even as other Covid-induced restrictions have undergone relaxation across the country.
The foundations of the corridor were laid in November 2018 by Prime Minister Imran Khan, allowing visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims from India to visit their holy site. It reflected Pakistan’s continued commitment to facilitating Sikh pilgrims and promoting religious tourism.
However, the facility was closed down in March 2020 following the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the venues opened up again and restrictions were lifted with waning cases and widespread vaccination drive, the Pakistani government, as well as the Sikh community, have been repeatedly urging the Modi administration to allow the religious community access to their holy site.
“On the visits for religious purposes, our position has been consistent, open and transparent. Despite a difficult relationship with India, Prime Minister Imran Khan went ahead with the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, which reflected our continued commitment to facilitating Sikh pilgrims,” Foreign Office spokesperson said in a recent weekly press briefing.
He said Pakistan’s approach was also in line with the government’s efforts to promote religious tourism.
“We expect India to reciprocate,” the spokesperson commented.
“On Kartarpur, our policy has been very clear. We value the significance of this corridor and remain strongly committed to its functioning, and support its early reopening. We hope India would respond positively,” the spokesperson said.
However, keeping up its gesture to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims, Pakistan is likely to allow around 3,000 Sikh pilgrims from across the world to participate in the birthday celebrations.
A local media report quoted Sardar Amar Singh, Head of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, as saying “our government has reopened the corridor before as well but it seems like our Indian counterparts are bent on not letting us reunite with our families across the border.”
Amar Singh is also overseeing the arrangements for the birth anniversary celebrations.
The media report also mentioned Sardar Jinderpal Singh, a resident of Amritsar, India, who had been trying for months to come to Pakistan to just get a glimpse of the Gurdwara but he has been consistently shunned.
“I contact the Shiromani Committee and the immigration officials of Kartarpur Corridor regularly to inquire about the reopening. Not soon, is all I get in reply,” Jinderpal was quoted as saying.
In a recent briefing on Guru Nanak’s birthday celebrations, Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said that on November 17, around 3,000 Sikh pilgrims would reach Pakistan through the Wagah border. The main function will be held on November 19 at Nankana Sahib.
According to the Indian daily, The Tribune, Deputy CM and Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa had set up meetings with Home Ministry officials in Delhi where he intends to take up the “ill-conceived” rationale of keeping it closed when almost all religious places across the world have been thrown open to the public.”
Recently sworn-in Indian Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to immediately reopen the corridor as there was no considerable improvement in the Covid-19 situation.
“Government of India opens India for foreigners. Tourist visas from October 15 but #KartarpurCorridor remains closed from Indian side despite being already opened from Pakistan side and repeated calls for reopening by Sikh community from Punjab & India,” senior Indian journalist Parmjeet Singh said on Twitter.