Kartarpur Corridor: The Ball Is In Khan’s Hands, But He’s Yawning Right Now
While Pakistan has set apart Rs. 100 crore in this year’s federal budget for the Corridor, the Indian side has witnessed an investment of close to Rs. 300 crore.
But sadly, the Pakistan government seems to have developed cold feet over certain aspects of the project.
The governments of India and Pakistan have again found themselves in a diplomatic impasse, this time on the issue of the Kartarpur Corridor. Nitpicking on the number of visitors permitted each day, operations, and infrastructure, Pakistan appears to be going back on its promises.
Kartarpur Corridor is one of the biggest infrastructural collaborations between India and Pakistan. While Pakistan has set apart Rs. 100 crore in this year’s federal budget for the Corridor, the Indian side has witnessed an investment of close to Rs. 300 crore.
A sum of Rs. 120 crore is being spent on connecting the Gurdaspur-Amritsar national highway to point zero on the India-Pakistan border, from where the corridor begins. Close to Rs. 180 crore is being spent at the Passenger Terminal Building (PTB) that shall be located on the outskirts of Dera Baba Nanak, and serve as the starting point for pilgrims.
Swarajya, in its interactions with locals in the vicinity of the Kartarpur Corridor earlier this year, learned how the PTB was to serve as an economic hub with hotels, eateries, commercial outlets, and a thriving market for artefacts and other cultural commodities. Spread across 50 acres, the PTB was to have offices to facilitate the travel of pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib. Museums on Sikh history were also being planned.
However, the entire project finds itself jeopardised for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the PTB was constructed in order to accommodate over 5,000 people on any given day, and 10,000 on festive occasions. Pakistan, however, is refusing to accommodate the given number and is restricting the visitor count to merely 700, and that too to Indian citizens alone.
With only 700 people allowed on a given day, the corridor shall not see a lot of visitors, and many would find themselves waiting for long, in case a process of reservation is initiated. Also, with only Indian citizens allowed, the Overseas Indian Card holders would find themselves alienated. This would rob many Sikhs residing in Canada, Europe, and other parts of the world of the opportunity to visit Kartarpur Sahib.
Two, Pakistan has stated that it would only allow the corridor to function on designated ‘visiting days’ against India’s request of having it operational on all days of the year. Given the cultural and economic significance the corridor holds, the request of having 700 pilgrims only, that too on ‘visiting days’, is utterly ridiculous. It would also be a severe dent to the economic prospects of the project.
Three, given that the route to the corridor passes through the Ravi river, it would be indispensable for Pakistan to construct a bridge over it. During the monsoon season, the river overflows, and therefore, the bridge shall ensure the smooth passage of pilgrims across Kartarpur. Pakistan, however, has been silent on this demand.
Pakistan has, instead, planned a causeway that shall join the four-lane highway on the Indian side. The causeway, even at an elevation, will not be immune to flooding by the Ravi. Thus, the long-term solution lies in having a bridge over the river as that would prevent the corridor from being unusable during days of excessive rainfall.
The proposal for the Kartarpur Corridor was first taken up between former prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif in 1999. It was taken up again in 2004 and 2008. However, a decade later, in a surprising turn of events, Pakistan decided to go ahead with the corridor on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November 2019.
More than 20 years before Babur won the first battle of Panipat, Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, founded the town of Kartarpur in 1504 on the banks of the Ravi river. This was the first town where Sikhs came together to live.
Constant flooding destroyed the mausoleums built in the area after the death of Guru Nanak in 1539, and hence the town had to be moved to Dera Baba Nanak, on the opposite side of the river.
In 1947, Kartarpur went to Pakistan, while Dera Baba Nanak remained in Indian territory. Today, the border between India and Pakistan is located next to the Ravi river. From the border, the Kartarpur shrine is a little over four kilometres away.
Given how swiftly the construction began on both sides of the border, Pakistan was expected to honour its commitments.
The Kartarpur Corridor is important for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it would serve as the ideal point for India and Pakistan to resume their diplomatic engagement. If the corridor is operational before November 2019 with both sides coming to an acceptable agreement, tensions could be eased and Pakistan, for its own good, could find an audience in India for high-level discussions.
Two, from a cultural point of view, the corridor would do a lot for the aspirations of the Sikh community in Punjab and worldwide. For long, petitions have been moved by Sikh communities and citizens residing in Canada, America, and Europe for the corridor to be opened. Pakistan, struggling with a negative global perception, could help its cause with the corridor.
Three, it shall add to the economic prosperity in the region. Given the corridor falls completely in the territory of Pakistan, the state could add to its revenues by charging a small transit fee, enabling local food and artefact industries to cater to the people on the stretch of more than four kilometres.
While construction on the Indian side is set to be completed by October this year, the onus will lie on Pakistan to ensure that the corridor is operational before November 2019.
If Pakistan falters on its commitments, not only will it be a diplomatic blunder, adding to the prevailing stress between the two countries, it will also be a big blow to prospects for collaboration for the future.
For Imran Khan’s government, it makes sense to get on with the corridor in a rational way and stop beating around the bush, or it shall risk losing the empathy of the Sikh community that has for long held a soft-corner for the citizens and land of Pakistan.
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