(The opening of Kartarpur Corridor practically signifies a breach in the artificial security barriers created by the two countries to keep their people apart)
An interesting short entry in Wikipedia about the corridor sums up the motive behind theproject. “The Kartarpur Corridor is a proposed border corridor between India and Pakistan, connecting the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur (in Punjab, Pakistan). The proposed corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometres (2.9 miles) from the Pakistan-India border. The Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Muhammad Faisal said the corridor will be finalized before the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, compared the decision to go ahead with the corridor by the two countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that the project may help in easing tensions between the two countries”.
Recently a ground breaking ceremony for the corridor was held in which Pakistani Prime Minister and the Chief of the Pak Army participated. Echoing Prime Minister Modi’s comments Imran Khan said that mistakes have been made from both sides in the past. Presently, according to him, on the Pakistan side everyone, the political parties, all institutions, including the Army; in fact everyone is on a single page, the friendship with India! He said that the Pakistanis want to move forward. According to him there is only one issue between these two countries and that is Kashmir! “It needs leadership with a will on two sides to solve it. It is not difficult to solve the problem. I am interested in improving relations because of one important reality and that is the poverty of our people on both sides. If we want to remove poverty, we have to open borders for free movement and trade. We have to live like good neighbours. When Germany and France after having fought so many wars, killing millions of people can now live together, why can’t India and Pakistan do so”! There cannot be a more positive offer than this to initiate a dialogue for peace.
Unfortunately, the response from the Indian side especially from the government circles has been totally negative. While some people including the foreign minister said that reconciliation can only take place after the other side stops aiding terrorists, others referred to the Corridor as a step in creating Khalistan. The proposal had been mooted right in 1947 when the Sikh holy place got included in Pakistan. As Navjot Singh Sidhu remarked the people of Punjab had been waiting for 70 years to visit this holy place. Incidentally, it is again the religious basis which has opened up the border. Normally, it should have been opening for people on two sides to meet each other irrespective of religion.
Because of reference to Berlin Wall it may be interesting to recollect the story of that episode in Europe. The relevant portion from the History website says, “On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) began to build a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” or “antifascist bulwark,” between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The Berlin Wall stood until November 9, 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War”. When the wall ultimately came down on November 9, 1989,more than 2 million people from East Berlin visited West Berlin that weekend to participate in a celebration that was, one journalist called it, “the greatest street party in the history of the world.” People used hammers and picks to knock away chunks of the wall–they became known as “mauerspechte,” or “wall woodpeckers”—while cranes and bulldozers pulled down section after section. Soon the wall was gone and Berlin was united for the first time since 1945. “Only today,” one Berliner spray-painted on a piece of the wall, “is the war really over.”
Ultimately, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall which resulted in the unification of Europe as the European Union. Now there are no borders. Common currency and trade. It looks like one big country! Well, same could be true of the sub-continent. While talking of walls, the worst ones are in J & K known as the Line of Control. We have electrified fences, with mines, booby traps and now even sensors and lasers. It is impossible to breach these fences which are more formidable than even the erstwhile Berlin Wall!
The worst sufferers are people living on two sides in Karnah, Tanghdar, Gurez, and even relations separated in what used to be erstwhile Baltistan, Kargil and Skardu. In fact, the people of Baltistan do not get any visas to visit each other. They go for Umra or Hajj to meet each other. Incidentally, some politicians have demanded a corridor to Sharada Peeth. This place used to have the highest centre of learning in the entire Indian sub-continent in ancient times. It used to be a very important place of learningfor Hindus as well as Buddhists. It is 150 kilometres from Muzaffarabad, situated on Neelam River. At present there are ruins of a temple and some other ancient buildings. It would be worthwhile if the place is revived as a centre of learning as gesture of goodwill to the memory of Ancient Kashmir which according to Kalhana was famous for learning throughout the world!
While appreciating this first act of goodwill between the people on two sides of the border, it may be mentioned that the Berlin Wall was not removed by the governments on two sides but the people themselves stormed it and virtually demolished it brick by brick. Similarly, if the sub-continent has to get rid of the artificially created walls of hatred, the people have to storm this en masse from both sides! The politicians especially the ruling ones will never allow this to happen as they are the beneficiaries of conflict! Bonhomie between the people of the two countries will make them lose their jobs! However, it is bound to happen sooner than later!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir