Some Indians may soon be able to enter Pakistan without a visa

The road ahead.
The road ahead.
Image: REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe
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Soon, Indians may be able to cross one of the world’s most dangerous borders without a visa—provided they stick to a clear, four-kilometre path.

This path, the Kartarpur corridor, will lead from the Dera Baba Nanak village in the state of Punjab, India, across the international border to a town called Kartarpur in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. The Pakistani town is home to a holy site of Sikhism, the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, where the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, is said to have lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.

India’s vice-president, M Venkaiah Naidu, laid the foundation stone of the corridor yesterday (Nov. 26), in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. A similar ceremony will take place on the other side of the border tomorrow (Nov. 28), with Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan breaking ground there.

The construction of this “faith corridor” will mean that many Indian Sikhs who were not able to worship at the Kartarpur gurdwara will now be able to do so. Currently, many devotees in India use binoculars to view the shrine situated a short distance away.

Nitin Gadkari, India’s minister for road transport and highways, has said that the the corridor will be built in four months. The goal is for Indian pilgrims to be able to visit Kartarpur by November 2019, for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

In many ways, the start of construction on the corridor signifies a thaw in relations between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers who have fought four wars against each another. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, even compared the project to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Modi’s enthusiasm, in fact, came as a surprise. In late September, he had cancelled a meeting with Khan after three policemen were killed in Jammu & Kashmir, an act that India’s foreign ministry claimed was orchestrated by “Pakistan-based entities.”

The corridor had also faced resistance from Indian military forces, who reportedly said in August that there were too many security concerns with the proposal.

Even now, some attitudes remain frosty.

Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab, and a leader of India’s opposition Congress party, declined an invitation from Khan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan. He tweeted that, while he had “always cherished” the dream to visit the Kartarpur gurdwara, he “cannot go while killings of Indian soldiers and terror attacks in Punjab continue.”

A letter, whose image Singh uploaded along with his tweet, referred in particular to an attack in Amritsar a week ago, in which three men were killed, and around 20 injured, during a religious gathering.

India has been mulling over the idea of the Kartarpur corridor since 1999, when prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee discussed it during a trip to Pakistan.