Kartarpura corridor – a symbol of interfaith harmony

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Shamim Mehmood

Pakistan has opened its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, especially from neighboring country India. While I am writing this article, thousands of Sikhs pilgrims around the world have reached at Kartarpura for the inauguration of the Kartarpura Corridor that will be followed by the 550th birthday Anniversary of Guru Nanak. The most revered founder of Sikh religion Baba Guru Nanak Dev was born in 1469 AD in Nankana Sabib, a small town near Lahore. He traveled far and wide carrying his message of peace, love and harmony before settling down on the bank of River Ravi. Following the death of Baba Guru Nanak, the inhabitants and his followers, transcending the religious identities, built a tomb for the founder of Sikhism.

Owing to the long-standing demand of Sikhs around the world, Pakistan took the initiative and persuaded India, which under pressure of the demands of its own people, relented. It could be considered the first positive step by the two sides amid the ongoing crises that erupted after India’s illegal abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, which annulled special status of the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. In a further step towards regional peace and harmony among religious communities, Pakistan waived the $20 fee on the Sikh yatrees on the day of inauguration and visa requirement. To the delight of the visiting guests, Pakistan also issued a commemorative coin as well as postal stamps to mark this special occasion.

This initiative will help the world understand and appreciate Pakistan from different perspective than merely from the lens of terrorism that has clouded and misguided the world’s view of this great country. In the heart Pakistanis are a peaceful people but have become victim of the terrorism due to international power politics.

The opportunities of religious tourism that have been opened due to Kartarpura Corridor, will not only help in the revenue generation of the country but also project a soft image. As cradle of the great Ghandara civilization, where Buddhism flourished and illuminated the world, the country is already a cherished destination of the Buddhists from across the world, particularly East Asia including China, Korea and Japan for religious pilgrimage. The Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Faisal while answering the question said that tourism was an industry that Pakistan was unable to focus on earlier. However, the present government is making concerted effort to promote this industry in the country. Sikhs/Nanak Naam levas, Hindus and Buddhist Monks etc. have a number of holy sites in Pakistan and we are trying to tap this potential of religious tourism. In addition, home to 5 of the 8 highest mountains in the world, Pakistan is also a country of great splendors.
According to the statistics Pakistan is Muslim majority country with 96.28 per cent of Muslims population, including 20-30 per cent of Shia Muslims.
In today’s Pakistan, if we see the present condition of minorities, especially the Christians and Hindus, it is highly deplorable. Christians, in particular, have remained a target of extremism in Pakistan during the last decade. Subjugated by the terrorists and militants, they feel disheartened and demoralized. Churches and Christian colonies are being targeted where many people have been killed. They have always urged respect for the human beings and their sentiment living in Pakistan, regardless of their faith and religious orientation. It has been often observed that Pakistan has failed to address the issues and solve the real problems facing communities with different religions and faiths.
Pakistan is proud owner of rich cultural heritage of many ancient civilizations and religions; Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Greek, Kalash and Jainism etc. Religious communities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others residing in Pakistan have been playing key role in different walks of life and have their representation in civil services, armed forces and parliament of Pakistan.

Baba Guru Nanak’s message of brotherhood, peace, tolerance and social cohesion can play a great role in bringing the mixed faith communities together. Baba Guru Nanak’s teachings are believed to be close to teachings of many religions. They have universal appeal and can promote interfaith harmony and tolerance. Taking a lead from the good example of this important pathway of peace between Pakistan and India, the people of Pakistan should continue to promote socio-economic cooperation among the mixed faith communities.