India and Pakistan:  The ties that bind

India and Pakistan:  The ties that bind

Tridivesh Singh Maini

Observers of the Indo-Pak peace process in general, and the CBM regime in particular, would have come across the term “Kartarpur corridor”. This has been in the news recently, because during the Baisakhi celebrations the Pakistan government reiterated its commitment to building this corridor. This is the corridor through which Sikh pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak (Indian Punjab) can visit the Kartarpur shrine (Narowal, Pakistani Punjab) without a visa. For those not familiar with the relevance of the Kartarpur shrine, this is the place where Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life. It was here that a lot of Hindus and Muslims became his devotees.

Before the 1965 war, Sikh pilgrims from India used to cross over a bridge connecting Dera Baba Nanak and Narowal. After the war, the bridge got damaged and, as a result, pilgrims could no longer pay a “visa- free” obeisance.

I was surprised to learn two facts about Kartarpur, which illustrate the fact that borders and nationalism cannot obliterate humanity and a common past: First, one of the activists working for the Kartarpur corridor’s cause told me that, for a long time, the shrine was looked after by a Pakistani soldier and his family. This soldier connected with Sikhism after reading about Guru Nanak’s philosophy, and such was his desire to get closer to the faith that he quit the army to help in the shrine’s upkeep.

The second fact, disclosed by a journalist friend from Lahore, was even more interesting and could be straight from a novel on the post-Partition trauma. The governments of both countries are still to formalise the Kartarpur corridor, yet, at an unofficial level — for a few years now — Pakistan Rangers (counterparts of the BSF) have been allowing Sikh pilgrims to enter Pakistani territory to visit the shrine, provided they returned to Indian territory the same day.

While subcontinental red tapism may be an impediment to peace between the two countries, it is subcontinental spontaneity — as exhibited by the Pakistan Rangers — which will help in peace-making. Therefore, when you see a Ranger stomping his feet at the flag-lowering ceremony, take it with a pinch of salt — they are human beings first and Rangers afterwards.