Finally, India and Pakistan signed a historic agreement on Thursday to operationalize Kartarpur Corridor (KC) even when the relations between the two countries are at an all-time low. This became a reality primarily because of the strong sentiment of the Sikh community. This is a significant and positive step. But, a few days before this unique step Pakistan stopped all postal mail between the two countries.
The newly signed agreement will allow Indian pilgrims to visit gurdwara in Kartarpur, Pakistan, located only four km from the international border. The corridor will link Dera Baba Nanak at Gurdaspur in Punjab, India to gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The Sikh community has been demanding opening of KC for many years. Guru Nanak Dev spent his last years of his life in Kartarpur gurdwara. The pilgrims will be able to visit Kartarpur gurdwara without valid passports. But, they will be required to carry it. The negotiation was difficult keeping in mind the tense relations between India and Pakistan especially after the abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian constitution.
In November 2018 it was decided to open the KC in time for 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism. India expressed its serious concern over Pakistan’s decision to levy $ 20 per pilgrim as service charge. There is no visa fee.
Earlier Pakistan had suggested they will allow only 500 persons per day. India insisted it should be increased to 5,000 and Pakistan agreed. The online registration is already commenced. One can register on the website prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in. The pilgrims will be communicated by SMS and email. They will be issued Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
The Sikh community is happy but Gujarat’s fishing community is unhappy with Pakistan’s decision of stopping postal mail. It is said that even during the three wars between the two countries postal services continued though through Mid-East countries. Most of the people will not understand the importance of postal services as they believe they can use email or social media to keep in touch with their relatives, friends living across the border. The fishing community and others whose near and dear ones are stuck in prisons across the border know the significance of postal communications.
It is only through postal letters Indian and Pakistani prisoners languishing in each other’s country’s prisons keeps in touch with their family members. Through letters they can communicate their sentiments, suffering to their family members and their family members updates them on their conditions and developments in the family, friends.
Two types of prisoners – fishermen and civilian – are languishing in each other’s prisons. Prisoners of both categories will suffer. Sometimes one also needs to send Power of Attorney to the lawyers representing persons charged under serious offences.
The philosophy of Guru Nanak has allowed leaders of both the countries to open the KC. Guru Nanak stood for communal harmony and peaceful co-existence. Following the agreement, even common persons from the Sikh community are keen to go to Kartarpur. This will be a unique as for the first time Indian pilgrims (not only Sikh) will visit Pakistan without a visa. The KC will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk.
The pilgrims can travel as individuals or in a group. The Persons of Indian Origins (PIOs) can also visit Kartarpur but they have to carry Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards along with their passports. The agreement is valid initially for five years. It was signed by SCL Das, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs, India and Mohammad Faisal, Director General (South Asia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan.
Both the countries need to resolve issues affecting common people. The issue of fishermen is important as they get caught in the mid-sea when they inadvertently crossed into the water of other country. As letter is the only for arrested fishermen to communicate with their relatives the postal services needs to be resumed. There are other doable issues like Sir Creek, Siachen, people-to-people contact. If resolved, it can help in removing mistrust. The agreement on Kartarpur needs to be seen in this context.