India has given Pakistan the green light to begin construction of the new Kartarpur corridor this week; an incredible step forward for two nations with considerable historic tensions. The corridor will provide vital access between significant Sikh areas which were split between India and Pakistan in 1947. Leaders hope for the corridor to be opened in time for the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh’s first leader in 2019, of which India has proclaimed to be celebrated as ‘Universal Brotherhood Year.’
The corridor is an important path for Sikh pilgrims in their annual journey to celebrate the Sikh’s first master Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday. The announcement means that rather than a four hour journey between the two sites using an international border and a restrictive visa process, the corridor will provide a 20 minute journey with no visa requirements. As well as a formidable progression in providing religious rights to one of Pakistan’s many minorities, it also symbolizes a rare sign of cooperation between Pakistan and India.
The move to acknowledge its minorities is a welcome step forward for Pakistan due to the U.S. placing Pakistan on a U.S. watch list for concern of “severe violations of religious freedoms” in January this year, and more notably the killing of a prominent Sikh activist in Pakistan in May. It was recently one of the first nations to grant legal status to Sikh weddings in 2018 and reserved ten seats in parliament for religious minorities to encourage social and political equality.
Yasmin Khan declared Punjab the epicentre of dispute between the two nations after their independence in 1947. The area was splintered by the partition and is considered the cultural and spiritual home of the global Sikh community. Many have praised the citizens of Punjab for pushing for this policy change. The Pakistani Information Minister Chaudry recently stated that internal public pressure from the area has changed India’s political position in the lead-up to its 2019 elections.
The 550th birthday anniversary in Kartarpur will also be an opportunity for the Sikhs for Justice – a U.S. based NGO – to gain momentum for its controversial ‘Referendum 2020’ in advocating self-determination of Sikhs in Punjab toward an independent state. The movement has been seen as being ‘Anti-India’ and has caused friction between India and its minority, and is forecasted to spill over in the United Nations if their referendum bid is successful.
These progressions in the relationship between India and Pakistan are an incredible example of what non-combatant strategies can achieve. These developments are a triumph in world affairs, but this is also a prime example of respect for religion and minorities which is imperative in today’s political climate. This spirit of diplomacy and adhering to international norms must continue with any progression of the Sikh’s bid for independence. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan compared relations with India as similar to Germany and France after the world war and if they could live peacefully, then so could they. He added, “If there is a will on both sides, the issue of Kashmir could also be resolved.”
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