Opening the corridors to peace – Andleeb Abbas

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The certain pathway to all things that you want is through the corridor of joy,” Esther Hicks. Kartarpur corridor has the potential of bringing joy to millions of spiritual followers of Baba Guru Nanak. Can it also act as a corridor of joy and a bridge of peace to the dividing, conflict-ridden Line of Control is the real question? With Kartarpur, Pakistan has put India on the defenses. It is caught in a no man’s land. Kashmir’s recent annexation is illegal as is their fantasy inclusion of it in their map. However, they can neither do that with Kartarpur nor stop Indians going to Pakistan for their holy journeys. Kartarpur thus is not just a symbol of legal clarity and a non-contentious boundary but a symbol of how such initiatives have the power to supersede all political, legal, geographical and cultural barriers.

Baba Guru Nanak is the most revered figure in the Sikh religion. His extraordinary life and character has made him a legend in 550 years and time to come. His saint like character was matched with his vast exposure. Spending almost 25 years on the road, Guru Nanak became one of the most widely travelled people of his era. If not known for his spiritual and poetical philosophy, Nanak would have been known for the extraordinary length and breadth of his journey.

Kartarpur is thus not just a religious offering it is much more than that. The Prime Minister has taken personal interest in the Kartarpur corridor development. Waving away visa fee and other requirements he has made it easy for visitors to travel across the border. Kartarpur corridor is aimed at reducing the hassles for Indian-Sikh pilgrims, who otherwise had to travel via Wagah Border, Lahore to Kartarpur and Nankana Sahib. Inauguration of this corridor is history in making and befittingly Government of Pakistan has issued commemorative coins on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.

Most consider it as a smart political move by Pakistan. This is not just a political move but a huge revenue earner in the undiscovered tourism economy of Pakistan. Barely 6,000 Indian Sikhs visit Pakistan, in contrast to over 50 million that visit the Golden Temple just 120 kms away from Nankana Sahib each year. With visa restrictions gone the daily traffic is supposed to cross 5000 visitors during peak seasons. World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that every rupee of direct expenditure leads to an additional spend of Rs1.46. Every direct job in the travel and tourism sector also implies an additional 1.55 jobs in related sectors. On these estimates the total contribution of Sikh tourists has a potential of generating approximately Rs44 billion every year, creating over 82,000 jobs.

Pakistan can now showcase its rich multicultural side. From Hindu Temples like Katas Raj to beautiful churches like Saint Paul’s Church in Rawalpindi, from Buddhist relics in Takht Bai to the most saintly shrines in Multan Pakistan has more to offer than many in the neighbourhood. Faith Tourism is the most prosperous segment for many countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Italy, etc. Thus after Kartarpur Pakistan can focus on:

1. South East Asian corridors – Buddhist relics like Takht Bai can be also renovated with the idea to create more customized offerings not only for the monks but tourists from the most developing and developed Asian nations. As in Kartarpur Takht Bai can be relaunched as a proper faith based shrine for Buddhists.

2. Royal diplomacy – A place becomes famous when famous people visit it. For Takht e Bai, the newly young crowned Japanese royalty can be invited on its inauguration to give it the international attention it needs along with many other celebrities of the region.

3. Develop faith harmony ambassadors – The prospect of peace through interfaith harmony rather than wars needs to be taken beyond the religious leaders’ sphere. It should not just be the Pope and Dalai Lama talking about it but public figures, celebrities, and people from all walks of life endorsing it.

Kartarpur corridor is a 9-km corridor (4-km across the border) but it is not just a new route. It is a new thought, a new paradigm, a new human connection. It is an answer to the hopes of Sikhs who have struggled for access to shrines commemorating the birth and death of Guru Nanak since Partition. It is also one of the rare gestures of peace in the history of the two warring countries. It is a symbol of how religion is not just a bone of contention but a bridge of cooperation. It is a ray of hope that human beings can rise and strive for common values.

All religions teach and preach peace and brotherhood. It is a great opportunity for Pakistan to show its humane and compassionate face. While India is busy in its Hindutva drive against Babri Masjid and Muslims, Pakistan is busy opening corridors for the world to perform pilgrimage to their holy places. When people connect on spiritual expeditions they join in mutual well wishing.

Near River Haro, on the hills of Haripur, is one of the oldest Buddhist monuments, Bhamala Stupa.

Recently at Bhamala Stupa, a Buddhist ceremony was arranged by Pakistan’s Centre for Culture and Development (C2D) and Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. apple Korean delegation headed by Senior Buddhist Monk Dr Neung-her Sinim led a prayer, joined by Monk Jeok Kyung and Monk Jeong Wei to pray for peace in the region. Describing his experience of meditation at Bhamala Stupa, Reverend Monk Dr Neung, told Gulf News: “Pakistanis and the world must realise the significance Bhamala holds for the spiritual community. Our ancestors chose this place. This is why we pray here for peace in the region and the world.”

Such corridors go beyond physicality. They provide spiritual serenity. They remind us that it is the lack of nourishment to the spirit that is the cause of most discontent in the world. As Pierre Chardin reminds us “We are not human beings going through a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings going through a human experience”.