Why The Proposed Sharda Peeth Corridor Will Be A Bigger Challenge Than Kartarpur
If a corridor to Sharda Peeth is opened, it will be a huge victory for the Kashmiri Hindus, but its management will be an uneasy responsibility for India.
The idea of such a corridor is not confined to Kashmiri politics alone, it has a national character and thus requires some serious diplomatic negotiations.
The opening of a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib saw quite a bit of actions and reactions around the political and diplomatic landscapes of India and Pakistan. Majority of the public opinion in India and Pakistan hailed this as a confidence building measure (CBM) for both the countries.
Immediately after this, another round of demands emerged from the Kashmiri Pandits asking for the opening of a similar corridor to Sharda Peeth situated at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
It is learnt that about 200 Kashmiri Pandits under the banner of All Party Minorities Coordination Committee (APMCC) held a demonstration at Anantnag for the opening of this corridor.
The Sharda Peeth (which lies abandoned at this point) is located at the banks of the Neelam River, quite close to the Line of Control (LoC). Sharda Peeth is counted as one of the three most revered pilgrimages for the Kashmiri Pandits, the other two being the Amarnath Temple and Martand Sun Temple.
Sharda Devi is worshipped as the family goddess in many Kashmiri Pandit households, many of whom believe that the on-going bloodshed in Kashmir is because of the neglect of and insult to the deity.
According to historians, Sharda Peeth, now in ruins, was constructed in the first century by Kushan rulers. It is considered to be one of the 18 shakti peeths dedicated to Goddess Durga.
Philosophers and poets like Kalhan, Adi Shankaracharya and Kumarjeeva are said to have been associated with the Sharda Peeth. There are references to this place in Rajatarangini written by Kalhan and in the travel memoirs of Al Biruni. The Fourth Buddhist Council was held by Emperor Kanishka in the year 141 AD at this place. It is said that there was a Buddhist university located here prior to the construction of the Sharda temple.
However, the issue of opening the corridor to Sharda Peeth is a bit more complicated than what one might assume. It does not follow the same trajectory as the Kartarpur corridor. The place where Kartarpur is located does not have any dispute over sovereignty. India considers that to be a part of Pakistan. There is an international boundary in between, and barbed wire fencing at the border. Pakistan has sent a 14-point proposal on the operation of the corridor, and the Indian government has not had any problems in accepting it.
But when it comes to the Sharda Peeth in PoK, there is no international boundary between India and Pakistan. There is a line of control (LoC) which is very different from an international boundary. There is an official and mutually acceptable position on the LoC, and both sides have rival claims on the territories across it.
One can construct watch towers and carry out patrolling on the international boundary. But in the case of the LoC, which is a de facto border, the army and border troops stay in bunkers, and violation of ceasefire and shelling are the order of the day.
It is expected that the Pakistan government may agree for a proposal to open a corridor to Sharda Peeth. As quoted by the Pakistani media, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also given a statement favouring this idea. But this might turn out to be a headache for the Indian side.
PoK is India’s territory. Then the question arises, will there be a visa requirement to visit Sharda Peeth? If India agrees to a visa requirement, then it would mean that India recognises Pakistan’s sovereignty over PoK. India would welcome the proposal of a corridor to Sharda Peeth, but the need to obtain a visa to go there is not acceptable.
Secondly, will India place a condition of visa for the residents of PoK to come over to India through the same corridor, when legally it considers the residents of PoK as Indians? Also, there will be the critical question of whether Pakistani citizens living beyond PoK will be allowed to access the corridor.
The Uri-Srinagar and Poonch-Rawakote roads across the LoC used to allow the Kashmiri people on both sides of the LoC to visit their relatives by taking a permit. This facility was not extended to the non-Kashmiris. But this formulae may not work in the case of Sharda Peeth as Kashmiri Hindus, who are at the forefront of this demand of opening a corridor to Sharda Peeth, are scattered all over the country and are necessarily not living in Kashmir. They cannot even be relocated and rehabilitated there.
Then how can a Kashmiri Hindu, residing in Delhi, cross over to Sharda Peeth with just a permit in hand? Moreover, being a shakti peeth of Goddess Durga, Hindus from all over India would like to visit Sharda Peeth as is the case with the Amarnath shrine. Till the time of the Partition in 1947, there used to be an annual pilgrimage to this place in the month of August. This can still be organised just like the pilgrimage to Nankana Saheb is.
However, in such a condition, would it be feasible to manage the movement of people across the LoC with just a permit? There are many such questions that need to be addressed before a decision of opening such a corridor can be taken.
Some of the local parties like Peoples Democratic Party have joined the chorus demanding the opening of the Sharda Peeth.
However, the issue of the Sharda Peeth corridor is not confined to Kashmiri politics alone. It has a national character and thus requires some serious diplomatic negotiations.
The opening of a corridor will be a huge victory for the Kashmiri Hindus but its management will be a huge bone of contention for India. It is important for India to convey its concerns on this matter considering the sensitivity of the location, before taking any steps further.
Note: Another author of the same name had earlier been credited with the piece. The error has now been corrected and is regretted.
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