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Why Kartarpur Sikh corridor is a very big deal for India-Pakistan relations

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From an unexploded bomb-shell to a corridor for peace, Guru Nanak’s mazar-samadhi will help confront the ghosts of Partition.

The shell of an unexploded bomb in a glass casing will welcome Indian Sikh pilgrims when they walk across to Kartarpur Sahib. Placed over a concrete pillar, the bomb-memorial has a plaque that claims the bomb was dropped by the Indian Air Force in 1971 to destroy the gurdwara, and that it had fallen into the holy well from which Guru Nanak used to draw water for the fields. There have been demands to remove this memorial. It will nevertheless serve to remind how big an achievement the Kartarpur corridor is – a visa-free pilgrimage across the border between two nuclear-armed countries, which have fought four wars and could any day start the fifth one.

All of Pakistan’s surviving gurdwaras, mandirs and Sufi shrines are places many Indians would like to visit. Similarly, Pakistanis want to be able to visit many shrines in India, starting with Ajmer Sharif, the most important Sufi shrine in South Asia. Currently, a pilgrimage visa agreement lets people visit a handful of shrines, if luck strikes. An increase in religious tourism between the two countries could help increase the stakes for peace.

Proposed for several decades, the Kartarpur corridor didn’t have to become a reality. There is nothing inevitable in India-Pakistan relations, except firing on the Line of Control. Ideas are proposed, debated and discussed for years, even decades, often to remain on informal pieces of paper.

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Therefore, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims is significant for many reasons. It signals a much-needed thaw in India-Pakistan relations on the eve of India’s big election season. It is proof once again that India-Pakistan relations........

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