IN LAHORE, there’s a nip in the air. It’s the evening before Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to lay the foundation stone in Kartarpur for the corridor linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib — the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev — to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur. And the mood on the ground, around 120 km from the venue, is a heady combination of high hopes and great expectations.
More so, after Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal declared in Islamabad that Pakistan will invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the next SAARC summit in the country. At the California Pizza outlet, on the road to the famous Liberty Market in the heart of Lahore, four young women — two lecturers, a doctor and a PhD student — are convinced that Khan’s move is “wise” and could change how people view Pakistan.
“This initiative is a positive step, and we hope India will reciprocate,” said Maria Farooq, a lecturer in Islamic Studies, as her friends nodded in agreement. It’s not just people on the street. “We believe that Pakistan’s Kartarpur spirit, if reciprocated adequately, can be a harbinger of change in this most challenging relationship in South Asia,” Foreign Office spokesperson Faisal told The Indian Express over phone. Pakistan had invited External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend Wednesday’s event. But with prior commitments on her table, Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri will attend the ceremony.
On Tuesday, India’s face on the ground was Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu who called the Kartarpur corridor as one of “infinite possibilities”. Faisal, meanwhile, borrowed a line from Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to say that the need to move from conflict to cooperation and animosity to peace is an established reality.
“Pakistan’s Kartarpur spirit, connecting hearts, should extend to Jammu & Kashmir and be a harbinger of hope for divided families who cannot meet each other even at funerals. If we find the political will to implement the same, we can all be winners,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said: “On both sides of the border, we have groups who support peace and those who oppose any relationship between the two countries. The governments have to choose which groups they support by opening Kartarpur. The PTI government in Pakistan has given a clear message that we support peace.”
While Faisal represents the government and Chaudhry the political leadership, the ruling party’s arch-rival PMLN also supported the move. PMLN’s Mushahid Hussain, who heads the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Indian Express that the Kartarpur initiative “is important for Pakistan-India ties for three reasons”. “First, since the holiest sites of Sikhism are in Pakistan, the corridor will give Sikhs visa-free access to a site that is holy for them, fulfilling a long-standing demand. Second, the timing of this breakthrough is important, given the fact that India and Pakistan are engaged in a war of words with no dialogue on any issue. Third, it shows that both sides, without compromising their core concerns and interests, can still take major decisions that promote people-to-people ties and defuse tensions,” he said.
On Monday, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh laid the foundation stone for the corridor on the Indian side in Gurdaspur. Earlier Tuesday, the Dawn newspaper quoted the Foreign Office spokesperson as saying that Modi will be invited to Pakistan for the SAARC summit.
“We fought a war with India, relations cannot be fixed quickly… In this century, diplomacy has completely changed. Now policies are made based on citizens’ emotions and wishes,” the report quoted Faisal as saying at the Kashmir Conference in Islamabad.
The SAARC summit in 2016 was to be held in Islamabad but was called after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in J&K’s Uri that killed 18 soldiers. India expressed its inability to participate before Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also pulled out. The last SAARC Summit in 2014 was held in Kathmandu, and was attended by Modi.