ISLAMABAD    -  Kartarpur Corridor which turns one year today (November 9) is a living evidence of Pakistan’s peace efforts in the region.

Last year, the Corridor was completed despite tension with India as Pakistan fulfilled a longstanding demand of the Sikh community. The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has announced to celebrate the first anniversary of the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor that connects Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, in Pakistan with Dera Baba Nanak town on the Indian side.

Important decisions were taken in a joint meeting of the PSGPC and the Evacuee Trust Property Board in Lahore last week to celebrate the anniversary on November 9.

The Pakistan government had reopened the corridor on its side in the first week of October. Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry had issued a notification for reopening of the corridor, which allows Indian pilgrims visa-free access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. PSGPC president Satwant Singh said the  first anniversary will be celebrated at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. 

“We were planning to invite Sikh devotees from India to attend the celebrations, but it was not possible as the corridor has not been opened from the Indian side in view of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Travel through the corridor was suspended in March following the Covid-19 outbreak. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which manages the affairs of gurdwaras in Punjab and other states of the country, has demanded re-opening of the corridor from the Indian side, especially on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi earlier announced Pakistan’s willingness to allow Sikh pilgrims to commemorate the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh by visiting one of the holiest shrines in their faith in June.

Singh ruled a large swathe of territory in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century.  He is usually regarded as the greatest Sikh ruler of all times since he fought a series of battles to expand his empire and captured several strategic locations in Punjab.

His death anniversary is observed from June 27 to 29, drawing many members of the Sikh community from across the world to Pakistan who want to pay homage to their deceased leader.

“As places of worship open up across the world,” Qureshi wrote in a Twitter post, “Pakistan prepares to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for all Sikh pilgrims, conveying to the Indian side our readiness to reopen the corridor on 29 June 2020, the occasion of the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.”

Pakistan’s Sikh community welcomed the announcement, urging the Indian government to give a positive response to the gesture.

“The entire Sikh fraternity is happy about the development. We also request the Indian administration to reciprocate and allow members of the Indian Sikh community to visit Kartarpur,” Sardar Satwant Singh, President of Pakistan Gurdawara Parbandhak Committee, said.

The Evacuee Trust Properties Board said that it would take all necessary precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The ETPB will adopt all Standard Operating Procedures prepared by the government while accommodating pilgrims at Kartarpur Sahib. We are ready to welcome Sikh devotees from India on June 29,” Amir Hashmi, a spokesperson of the board, said.

The Kartarpur Corridor is a 4-kilometer-long visa-free passageway for India’s Sikh pilgrims who desire to visit the final resting place of the founder of their faith, Guru Nanak Dev.

It was inaugurated by the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers in November 2019 in their respective countries. The corridor remained functional despite the deteriorating relations between the two South Asian nuclear-armed neighbours until the spread of the new coronvirus this year when it was shut down in March for health safety purposes.

Last week, the Foreign Office had rejected the “baseless and fallacious propaganda” by the Indian government regarding the Kartarpur Corridor.

Islamabad said the claims had also been refuted by the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.

“The malicious propaganda by the Indian government is simply an attempt to malign the ‘peace corridor’ initiative by casting mischievous aspersions against the interests of the Sikh community and to detract attention from the reprehensible violation of human rights of minorities in India,” said FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri.

He said the PSGPC remained responsible for carrying out rituals at the gurdwara as per Sikh code of conduct.

“The Project Management Unit under the Evacuee Trust Property Board has simply been created to facilitate the committee in this regard. Any insinuations regarding ‘transferring’ the affairs of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib from the PSGPC to the PMU are not only contrary to the facts, but are also aimed at creating religious disharmony by the Hindutva-driven BJP government in India,” the FO spokesperson said.

He said the Sikh community from all over the world remains greatly appreciative of the efforts made by Pakistan to complete the Kartarpur Corridor project in record time and for the excellent arrangements made to facilitate the pilgrims.

“India would be well advised to take steps to protect its minorities and their places of worship, rather than feigning misleading and sham concerns for the rights of minorities elsewhere. Kartarpur Corridor is yet another evidence of our efforts for peace,” he said.