Visa-Free Initiative For Sikhs In Pakistan – OpEd


The construction of the Kartarpur Corridor by Pakistan is a landmark initiative that signifies a genuine commitment to religious harmony. This monumental project facilitates the pilgrimage of Sikh devotees to one of their holiest sites, the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. This corridor is not just an infrastructure project but a symbol of peace and cooperation between two nations with a fraught history.

By building the Kartarpur Corridor, Pakistan has significantly eased the journey for Sikh pilgrims from India. The visa-free access to the shrine and the convenience of being able to visit seven days a week from dawn to dusk highlight Pakistan’s dedication to supporting the religious practices of the Sikh community. This initiative removes bureaucratic hurdles and allows pilgrims to focus on their spiritual journey. The rapid and massive completion of the Kartarpur Corridor within a year underscores Pakistan’s capability in infrastructure development. The construction included roads, bridges, reception centers, and a complex around the shrine, all of which provide a conducive environment for pilgrims. This efficient execution not only showcases Pakistan’s commitment to the project but also its ability to mobilize resources and manpower effectively.

Pakistan’s decision to charge a nominal service fee of $20 per visitor ensures the sustainability of the facilities at the shrine. This fee is minimal compared to the expenses incurred by pilgrims traveling to other religious sites around the world. This affordability makes the pilgrimage accessible to a broader range of devotees, fulfilling a crucial need for economic inclusivity. The bilateral agreement dated October 24, 2019, between the governments of Pakistan and India, enshrines this arrangement, reflecting mutual understanding and cooperation. Despite ongoing tensions, particularly with the Indian security forces’ crackdown on Kashmiris and the unilateral changes to Kashmir’s status, Pakistan has remained steadfast in its cooperation with the Sikh community. The Kartarpur Corridor stands as a testament to Pakistan’s willingness to engage in positive and peaceful interactions with India. This initiative is a beacon of hope amidst the turmoil, illustrating that dialogue and cooperation can prevail even in challenging times. Unfortunately, the Indian government has attempted to downplay Pakistan’s sincere efforts, portraying them as strategically motivated. These claims are baseless and misleading, detracting from the genuine progress made through the Kartarpur Corridor. The corridor’s development should be viewed as a humanitarian and religious effort rather than through the lens of political maneuvering.

The Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has focused on trivial matters such as the $20 service fee and the presence of the US consulate in Amritsar, rather than addressing more pressing issues. This fixation diverts attention from the genuine economic hardships, farmer demands, and job scarcity affecting Punjab. The BJP’s neglect of these critical issues reveals a disconnect with the people, especially the youth, who are disillusioned with the current government. The youth in Punjab have shown their rejection of the BJP’s policies, which they perceive as out of touch with their needs and aspirations. The economic difficulties and the lack of job opportunities are more pressing concerns for the population than the nominal fee for visiting the shrine. The BJP’s focus on peripheral issues rather than substantive problems highlights its failure to connect with the grassroots realities of Punjab.

The Kartarpur Corridor is more than just a pathway between two nations; it is a bridge of peace and a symbol of religious tolerance. Pakistan’s initiative to facilitate Sikh pilgrims is a genuine effort to foster harmony and understanding. The infrastructure development, visa-free access, and minimal service charges all contribute to making the pilgrimage accessible and affordable. Despite the political tensions and attempts to distort facts, the Kartarpur Corridor remains a beacon of hope. It exemplifies Pakistan’s commitment to peaceful means and its willingness to engage constructively with India. This initiative should be recognized for what it is – a sincere effort to promote religious freedom and peace. The Indian government would do well to acknowledge and support such efforts rather than focusing on trivial issues. Addressing the real economic and social challenges facing Punjab should take precedence. The youth of Punjab, disillusioned with the current government, are looking for leadership that understands and addresses their needs.

The Kartarpur Corridor serves as a reminder that cooperation and goodwill can overcome political barriers. It stands as a testament to the potential for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. As such, it deserves to be celebrated and supported by both nations, as well as by the international community.

Shaimin Raja

Shaimin Raja is a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National University of Modern Languages

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