Nov 18, 2021: Sikh pilgrims have begun to arrive in Pakistan to visit one of their holiest shrines, Kartarpur, before the birth anniversary of the religion’s founder after India gave them the green light to cross the border.
The Kartarpur corridor, a visa-free crossing allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the temple just 4km inside Pakistan where Guru Nanak died in 1539, first opened in 2019 for Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary but was closed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Leading Indian politicians, including the Chief Minister of Indian Punjab, will be in Pakistan today (Thursday) to visit the Kartarpur Corridor, a Foreign Office spokesman said on the eve of the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.
The Kartarpur Corridor, which connects Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the last resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, with the shrine of Dera Baba Nanak in Gordaspor District, was reopened on Wednesday. The pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara was suspended in March 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The corridor connects Pakistani and Indian Punjab, the birthplace of Sikhism, which was divided between the two countries after they gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Sikhs are a tiny minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan, although many of their religious sites remain there. Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations, having fought three full-scale wars since independence.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had extended a warm welcome to the Sikh pilgrims arriving in Pakistan on the 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
“Pakistan looks forward to welcoming Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the Kartarpur Corridor from November 17,” he had said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
FM Qureshi said Pakistan had reopened the Kartarpur Corridor on June 29, 2020 after temporary suspension of about three months due to the pandemic. However, India kept the Corridor closed from its side for nearly 20 months, and has only now allowed it to be re-opened.
Hailed as a peace corridor, the Kartarpur corridor in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab was reopened as the nuclear-armed South Asian rival nations upheld their ceasefire agreement in the disputed region of Kashmir for months.
According to Indian media reports, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channy, his ministers and Punjab Congress President Navjot Singh Sadhu will be part of the first delegation to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.
The Foreign Office spokesperson said that Deputy Chief Minister of Indian Punjab Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Om Prakash Soni would also visit Pakistan. Confirming the Foreign Office spokesperson’s statement, Rajasthan Cabinet Minister Harish Chaudhry and eight members of the Indian Punjab Legislative Assembly will also be part of the delegation.
However, Sidhu’s media adviser Surinder Dalla confirmed that the Punjab Congress president would visit the Kartarpur corridor on November 20, not today.
Dozens of Sikh men and women from India crossed into Pakistan on the first day of the reopening, said Haji Ashraf, a Pakistani official who received the pilgrims on Wednesday.
Thousands more were expected to pass through the corridor in the coming days to attend Friday’s annual event.
Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life in Kartarpur Sahib. His white-domed mausoleum can be seen across the border in India. Sikh pilgrims from India are finding it difficult to visit and have long been demanding relaxation of road links and travel permits.
A Pakistani official source said the Corridor had never been closed on the Pakistan side, and that they were waiting for confirmation from Indian authorities that the pilgrims would be allowed to cross.
Guru Nanak, born in 1469 to a Hindu family near the present-day Pakistani city of Lahore, is revered both by Sikhs and Hindus who prepare community feasts known as langars to mark his birth anniversary.
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