Wednesday February 20, 2019
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‘Peace Corridor’ Between India And Pakistan Open For Sikh Community

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

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Pakistan, Sikh
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan led a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new border crossing with arch rival India, days after New Delhi announced it would support a corridor to facilitate its minority Sikh community to visit one of their holiest sites across the border.

The fenced crossing dubbed a “corridor of peace” will link Indian border city Dera Baba Nanak, to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak in Pakistani Punjab.

The Kartarpur corridor is supposed to be completed and opened well ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh guru on November 23, 2019. It will provide year round visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims from India after more than seven decades.

In a speech after laying the foundation stone, Khan said Pakistan and India have both made mistakes in the past but they now need to work together to improve ties.

Sikh
Sikh pilgrim wait for food at the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

“War is out of question between our two countries, which are equipped with nuclear weapons. It will be really crazy for both of them to even think about going to war,” the Pakistani leader warned. “Our countries must stop blame game. If France and Germany can leave their bloody past behind why can’t India and Pakistan break the shackles of the past.”

Khan assured Sikh visitors from India that they will find their worship place and surrounding complex a completely developed structure equipped with all facilities and comforts when they visit Pakistan for the 550th birthday celebration of the Sikh guru.

India’s and Pakistan’s independence from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province, where Sikhism was born.

The idea to open the corridor has been floated around since the 1980s, never coming to fruition due to the tumultuous relationship between the two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors.

The proposal received a fresh impetus in August when Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, told Indian minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was in Pakistan to attend the oath taking ceremony of Khan, Islamabad would be willing to open the corridor.

General Bajwa was among the big gathering of guests at the groundbreaking ceremony, including diplomats, Indian journalists, Sikh devotees and a ministerial level delegation representing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Last week, the Indian cabinet, chaired by Modi, approved the move.

On the Indian side

Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu performed the groundbreaking Monday on his side of the corridor at a ceremony just two kilometers from the Pakistani border.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj Wednesday played down expectations the corridor could lead to the revival of official talks between the two countries.

“The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, the dialogue can start but the dialogue is not connected with only the Kartarpur corridor,” Indian media quoted her as telling reporters in Hyderabad ahead of the groundbreaking on the Pakistani side.

India, Sikh
Indian VP Naidu (3L), Union ministers Nitin Gadkari (6L) and Hardeep Singh Puri (5R), Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore (2L), and other officials stand for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak. VOA

The Indian external affairs minister had also been invited to attend the ceremony by her Pakistani counterpart, but she expressed her inability to undertake the visit due to prior commitments.

Swaraj also requested in a tweet that Islamabad “expedite construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respects at the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible.”

Previously, Indian pilgrims had to take a visa and arrive in the Pakistani border city Lahore before taking the 2-3 hour journey to the shrine. The new corridor, which is planned to remain open year round, will cut their journey to a mere 6 kilometers.

The temple is visible on clear days from a viewing stage on the Indian side, where religious devotees gather every day to have a glimpse of it.

Impetus for peace

Politicians on both sides have hailed the decision as an impetus for peace between the two countries that have fought several wars in their seventy-year existence. In the last few years, violence, including cross border shelling from both sides, has intensified in the disputed Kashmir region that both sides claim.

Sikh
A Sikh pilgrim visits the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called it a victory for the peace lobby in both countries.

However, other analysts were less optimistic.

“I don’t think it has any enduring significance apart from being stand alone. I see it as pure symbolism and I don’t see it as any change in either country’s basic positions,” said Ajai Sahni, the executive director of New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management.

He said the move was an effort by the Indian government to please the Sikh community ahead of next year’s general elections.

“Everyone is looking for whatever they can do to get a few extra votes,” he said.

Days before the ground-breaking ceremony, India complained to Pakistan about not allowing officials from its High Commission access to Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan for the Guru Nanak birth anniversary.

India Pakistan, Sikh
Indian Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, third left, stands for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak,. VOA

The Indian Foreign Minister released a statement expressing “grave concern at the reports of attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Indian pilgrims to Pakistan, to incite communal disharmony and intolerance and promote secessionist tendencies with the objective of undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal rejected the charges. “India is a habitual alleger and it has become its second nature to blame Pakistan for any negative development, without blinking an eye,” he asserted.

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

Also Read: Vow To Hold Peace Talks With India: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan

The chief minister of Indian Punjab, Amarinder Singh, while welcoming the Kartarpur corridor opening, refused an invitation to attend the ground-breaking ceremony citing Pakistan’s support for terrorism in Indian Punjab.

“In the past 18 months we have smashed more than 15 terror modules. We have found Kashmiri terrorists in Punjab. How are we expected to tolerate all this?” he told Indian newspaper The Hindu. (VOA)

Next Story

Does India’s Giant Step in the Direction of Green Energy Signal an End to Coal?

Coal consumption forecasts have already been downgraded significantly from 2013 projections, and major shifts in energy policy like Modi’s are likely to add significant weight to the idea that India might well become a much bigger player in renewable energy production in the next 20 to 30 years

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FILE - Smoke billows from chimneys of the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Dadong, Shanxi province, China. VOA

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced its target to increase India’s renewable energy capacity to an equivalent of 40% of the nation’s total green energy output, it raised eyebrows. Could this mean an end to India’s coking coal industry?

Is there investment for green energy?

For any alternative to coal to be a serious consideration, there must be investment sources. Already India’s renewable target has attracted investors like Japan’s SoftBank, which agreed to a deal to sell power generated from a Northern Indian solar bank at 2.4 rupees per unit – below that of coal power, which currently costs over 3 rupees per unit.

Contrary to the enormous investment in the production of solar panels being manufactured by China, which has made them cheap enough to encourage this Indian growth in solar renewable energy, there has been relatively little investment in Indian coal.

Asia-Pacific
Workers operate machines at a coal mine at Palaran district in Samarinda, Indonesia (VOA)

For instance, state-run NTPC has cancelled several large coal mining projects, including a huge plant in Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, the private sector has continued investing in renewables. Adani Power has over $600 million invested in solar panels in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

That Modi has made an investment of $42 billion in the renewable energy sector over the past four years and his renewables plan is likely to generate a further $80 billion in the green energy sector in the next four years is good news for the Rupee. External investment in India is likely a sign of increased currency transaction in forex trading signalling the Rupee gaining strength against other pairs. Like the Indian economy, millions of dollars are traded on currencies every day, and increased interest in the Rupee helps cement India’s economic and investment potential.

How reliant is India on coal power?

Not so long ago the Indian government had a target to connect 40 million households to the national grid by the end of 2018. It even tasked CIL, the state coal monopoly, to produce over a billion tonnes of coal per year by 2020, an increase of almost 100% from 2016. It’s an ambitious goal, notwithstanding the environmental impacts of mining for such an unprecedented amount of coal. This is the same coal that already generates 70% of India’s primary commercial energy requirement; compare that figure to the UK’s 11%, Germany’s 38%, and China’s 68%, while France has practically shut all of its coal power stations. This means that India’s shift from coal could have important implications for the global climate, and any investors looking towards coal would be making a very brave and risky decision.

Coal
Environmentally, coal isn’t a sustainable source of power, certainly not in current quotas.

The increasing problem with relying on coal

Environmentally, coal isn’t a sustainable source of power, certainly not in current quotas. Clean-up costs could make coal an out-of-date power source sooner rather than later. A report by Oxford University estimated that investors in coal power may lose upwards of half a trillion dollars because assets cannot be profitably run or retired early due to global temperature rises and agreed carbon emission reductions.

Also Read- Oral Antifungal Drug Linked to Risk of Miscarriage

Coal consumption forecasts have already been downgraded significantly from 2013 projections, and major shifts in energy policy like Modi’s are likely to add significant weight to the idea that India might well become a much bigger player in renewable energy production in the next 20 to 30 years – although it’s difficult not to see coal remaining an important power source considering India’s significantly large coal reserves still available in Eastern India.