Kartarpur Corridor: Spirit, fall of a wall, model, peace corridor?

Kartarpur Spirit was a euphemism for Pakistan catching India’s sentiment and opening its heart to Sikhs – both incidental to a Sikh religious longing on the 550th of Guru Nanak – a win for all , argues NIRMAL SINGH in this second of a three part series

Kartarpur – Photo: Malik Dil Shair Bhullar facebook page
By Nirmal Singh OPINION 

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, invoked Guru Nanak but drifted to compare the decision for creation of the corridor to the fall of Berlin Wall in that the project may help ease tensions between the two states at loggerheads from their inception. He also thanked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan [1] for ‘respecting the sentiments of India. The opening of Kartarpur Sahib corridor before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji has brought us immense happiness’ thus asserting that the longing for the corridor was sentiment of India and not of Sikhs alone.

PM Imran Khan was candid to admit the he did not know anything about Kartarpur a year back but said that “Pakistan believes that the road to prosperity of region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, and that Pakistan “is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community.” So opening of corridor may bring peace, prosperity and bright future to the region and Pakistan was opening their hearts to Sikh community. He was addressing India for prosperity through peace and extending invite to global Sikh community.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the corridor has given Pakistan a lot of goodwill in the Sikh community. Pakistan decided to continue with the Kartarpur Spirit as a goodwill gesture despite India not giving similar response. He compared the opening of corridor to fall of the Berlin Wall, which changed the face of Europe. Kartarpur can change the face of South Asia [2].

PART ONE: Conundrum of religion for peace and tricky reality for Sikhs – Part 1 

The US saw the Corridor as a positive example of neighbors working together for their mutual benefit. [3] A simple transaction based on mutuality of interest of neighbors, not motivated as a giveaway to Sikhs.

The UN secretary general’s spokesperson welcomed facilitating visa-free cross border visits by pilgrims by use of Corridor as way for interfaith harmony and understanding – the only message to reflect on the raison d’être – the Sikh longing!

The response of Sikhs was euphoric. Rajmeet Singh, Tribune News Service, part of the first jatha to walk through the corridor felt an upsurge of emotions was all pervasive – divine aura of Guru Nanak was at play – some walked up to immigration terminal, chanting hymns.

Playing perfect host, Pakistan PM Imran Khan travelled up to the immigration terminal – devotees awestruck by quality makeover given to the shrine – the four acre shrine premises now is 42 acres, with 3.5 lakh sq ft white marble flooring around the main complex – Navjot Sidhu was mobbed, everyone including Imran Khan crediting him for the initiative – as clock struck 5 pm it was time to return – one of the most memorable days in lives of all who were there! [4] “It is like a dream come true.

The Pakistani government fulfilled its pledge to Sikh community in a short period. It is a mega project. Such a huge project has never been accomplished in such a short time in Pakistan’s history,” Gobind Singh [5], Granthi of Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, told DW.

At the last minute all controversies dissolved. Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh called off the simultaneous event by the state with the PM’s event and the PM Modi passed the charge to lead the first jatha from India to Jathedar Akal Takht with ex PM Manmohan Singh, CM Amrinder, Navjot Singh Sidhu and over 500 others following! The spirit of peace and love divine that the Guru epitomized had pervaded the hearts of one and all. [6]

Everything came around seamlessly as if the divine hand was guiding it all. Sikhs were ecstatic and thankful. They had to be for so much was done by the two countries to fulfill a Sikh longing and their leaders were citing Kartarpur Model and Kartarpur Spirit as the way to contain conflict and usher in peace and prosperity for mutual benefit!

Photo: Imran Khan Facebook page

From this euphoric pitch, we want to now turn to the notes of caution about the intent and likely difficulties in the peace process that have been expressed on both the sides.

Captain Amrinder Singh, the CM of Punjab has been persistently mistrustful of Pakistani intent. He has maintained that the project is supported by Pakistan IS establishment and it cannot but be an instrument to disturb peace and harmony prevailing in Punjab and promote terrorist activities along the international border in the state. Similar views have been expressed by some experts on security issues in India.

Over three weeks after the inauguration of the Corridor, Pakistan Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, said to be close to Pakistan PM, has told reporters [7] that “Gen Bajwa strongly hit India by opening the corridor. Through this project, Pakistan has created a new environment of peace and won itself love of the Sikh community.” He also added that General Bajwa did not attend the Kartarpur Corridor’s opening ceremony apparently to avoid any controversy. The statement by Minister Rashid tends to support apprehensions on Indian side.

With euphoria tempered by cautionary as well as threatening voices, turning to look at the core messages, feelings, hopes and expressions that the Kartarpur Corridor has evoked may give us a more balanced perspective.


The term Kartarpur Spirit has been used by FM Qureshi. We had earlier summarized his stated message as: The corridor has given Pakistan a lot of goodwill in the Sikh community. Pakistan decided to continue with the Kartarpur Spirit as a goodwill gesture despite India not giving similar response. He compared the opening of corridor to fall of Berlin Wall, which had changed the face of Europe. Kartarpur can likewise change the face of South Asia.

The above statement has three components, viz.

  • Pakistan continued Kartarpur Spirit as goodwill gesture despite no response from India
  • It has given goodwill in Sikh community
  • Opening corridor like fall of Berlin Wall

Kartarpur Spirit thus seems to be an abstraction for Pakistan’s goodwill gesture to India. Pakistan continued the goodwill despite lack of India’s reciprocity. So while Pakistan was trying to woo a reluctant India to show reciprocity, it, instead, earned a lot of goodwill among Sikhs who were rooting for the corridor.

This triangular dynamic became obvious as the project progressed and its recognition resonates in what the two PMs said on inauguration. So the Kartarpur Spirit in fact was a euphemism for Pakistan catching India’s sentiment and opening its heart to Sikhs – both incidental to a Sikh religious longing on the 550th of Guru Nanak – a win for all!


Both PM Modi and FM Qureshi have invoked the example of the fall of Berlin Wall during their speeches when talking of the Corridor. While PM Modi alluded to creation of corridor to the fall of Berlin Wall in that the project may help ease tensions, FM Qureshi said [8] ‘If in our time, Berlin Wall could fall, the map of Europe changed, Kartarpur corridor opened, then the line of control dynamics can also be changed. Peace can also be initiated. He had also said in 2005 [9] that one day border would be irrelevant and Pakistan and India will become one, “like the two Germanies”.

The Kartarpur events were covered by International media. One would therefore be inclined to believe that neither Modi nor Qureshi was using Berlin Wall as a jumla – a metaphor only, not intended. It is expected that both of them would be familiar with the implications inherent in the changes that fall of Berlin Wall set off 30 years earlier to the day on November 9, 1989. The backgrounds of both the leaders are impressive. Narendra Modi is product of the RSS grooming and in his speeches as well as dealings with foreign Heads of State has displayed understanding of the diverse forces at work in both the national and international spheres. His group of advisers would no doubt be familiar with the breadth and depth of fundamental changes that fall of Berlin Wall had led to in East Europe. Shah Mehmood Qureshi hails from an influential Sufi family of Multan, went to school at Aitcheson College, BA from Forman Christian College, followed by Graduate degrees in Law and History from Cambridge.  He is Sajjada Nashin of the dargah of Bahauddin Zakariya, entered politics in mid 1980s and has been Pakistan’s Foreign Minister twice. That he has expressed similar views earlier, should be confirmatory of his meaning what he said about the fall of Berlin wall.

With the above background, the question that comes up is if they both are indicating that after over 70 years of dithering trying to make the model created in 1947 to work for good of people of both the countries, it is time the sub continent now introduces mega changes like the historic fall of Berlin Wall did for Europe to ease tensions in the region and change its face using the ubiquitous Kartarpur Corridor initiative!

The intent of the two leaders and their governments therefore should be explored further for specific changes to initiate with Kartarpur Corridor as catalyst, that eventually help bring peace and prosperity to the South Asia region, as the fall of Berlin Wall [10]did to countries in Europe.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi [11] infers that PM Modi’s recall of Corridor as dismantling of Berlin Wall was both historical and contemporary. His argument is that the policy by enunciated by PM I.K. Gujral to base relations with Pakistan on reciprocity evolved into the well known concept of composite dialogue which included ‘promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields’ and thus placed mutuality of interest as a reciprocity equivalent. Gandhi’s view endorses the existence of conceptual consistency among Indian leaders on the mechanics of Pakistan relations but whether they would be willing to go as far as ‘Berlin Wall fall changes’ is not a given.

Indian PM Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh at the Kartarpur Corridor opening – Photo: Narendra Modi Facebook


As we said earlier the phrase Kartarpur Model was used by the ex-PM Manmohan Singh. If we go back in history, it was at Kartarpur that Guru Nanak had lamented at the destruction suffered at the hands of invaders [12] and now, half a millennium later the Hindustan of yore, that the Guru had loved so much, is divided into two countries that are extremely mistrustful of one another and the hope is expressed that the Kartarpur initiative playing out presently would establish a model that leads to easing of tension, bring peace and harmony for better future and prosperity to the poor and suffering people of the two countries.

Continuing our purpose is to try and grasp the essentials of paradigm that Kartarpur model may inhere. About Manmohan Singh, who was the first to use this term use of term, David Cameron, the ex British PM, had reminisced in his autobiography saying “He was a saintly man, but he was robust on the threats India faced” and that he had told Cameron in July 2011 that in the event of another terrorist attack like 2008 in Mumbai, “India would have to take military action against Pakistan.” [13]

With the history of relations between the two countries as Dr Manmohan Singh would be fully aware of, he could not have uttered the hope placed on Kartarpur Model lightly, nor would he have used this phrase as a metaphor. He is not easily swayed by euphoric emotions and thus would have perceived the Corridor that had received active involvement and support of both the Governments, to have potential to contain conflict and promote peace, harmony and prosperity in the region.

During his visit to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur as part of the first group to cross over after inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor on 9 November, 2019, Dr Manmohan Singh had told reporters from Pakistan “I hope India and Pakistan relations improve enormously as a result of this beginning. It is a big moment,” On his return to India later the same evening, he told the media, “It was a good beginning, India-Pakistan relations are subject to many buts and ifs, I hope this is a good beginning to normalize our relation.” [14] Similar sentiments underpin the messages by incumbent PMs of India and Pakistan and their predecessors consistently.

The progress of the project from the dates of initial announcements by the two Governments was not without hiccups but these kept getting resolved, albeit slowly. Notwithstanding complexity of issues in the ongoing negotiations, both the sides made empathetic concessions to accommodate Sikh requests while construction work kept pace for meeting the time deadline.

The project also seemed to grip the attention of international community. The uniqueness of the case was that in one of the extremely troubled areas of the world, these two Governments, hardly on talking terms, were creating history by facilitating access for the devotees of a minority faith to their sacred religious site across international boundary without a formal visa. No wonder the project received global approbation!

Since Manmohan Singh expressed the hope that Kartarpur Model could be replicated in future for durable peace, we have tried to identify the leading characteristics of this model culled from what has transpired so far. The summary is presented below to facilitate conceptualization and planning of the replication process.


Long standing unresolved issue [Kashmir] impeding progress on both sides that could cause major internal unrest or trigger violent conflict between opponents
Cannot subdue the opponent through military means, economic pressures, international channels or on moral/ethical plane
Diplomatic relations snapped
Costs turning very high but risks in proposed venture minimal


  • Locate a potential benign area of agreement with manageable costs and risks [corridor [15]]
  • Ensure national interest will not be jeopardized [systemic controls]
  • Spontaneous announcement of own intent with timeline for completion [surprise]
  • Make concessions, stay steadfast on the project, earn goodwill of beneficiary and the international community, media et al [create optimism]
  • Controlled thaw management with the opponent and edge to dialogue with options that have a chance of acceptance [unsaid cooling off]
  • Internal situation kept manageable [hotheads managed]
  • If does not work, go back to drawing board, keep lessons learnt in mind [resoluteness]

The above simplistic paradigm is a construct based on what actually transpired in this case but generalized for ease of modification for specific situations or in the operation of this project itself by those involved at leadership level who hopefully would be committed and proven resolvers of knotty issues and not status quoits.

Coincidentally a possibility for replicating religious diplomacy in evidence in Katarpur Corridor has been flagged by Commodore C Uday Bhaskar in the healing and reconciliatory intervention needed in the post Ayodhya Verdict [16] situation. Bhaskar also has argued [17] that the Citizen Amendment Act case, agitation against which is currently roiling India, must be negotiated with the citizen – making another potential case for interfaith healing and intervention!

In our view the possibilities for interfaith interventions for internal religion related disputes are immense in India and it is about time that the tenor of interfaith engagement moves from surface expression of bonhomie to genuine interfaith initiatives for trying to identify the root causes and then working for their solution through whatever changes are needed. [18]

Programs intended to satisfy a societal yearning could involve considerable capital and recurring costs. In discussions relating to the Corridor, the cost element has not figured as a factor except relating to the maintenance expenses of the entry/exit facility being recovered, at least in part, by a service fee. The intent therefore is to inspire peace and harmony through reaching out to people rather than look for reciprocity, mutuality or economic benefit. That subtlety must not be lost on us when we think of replication or incremental use of this paradigm.

The same thought seems to be expressed by Grant Wyeth when he infers [19] that ‘the Kartarpur Corridor may be a small initiative to create some goodwill and ease one pressure on both states, and with success this may create the momentum to identify and sooth another problem in the future.’ So the critical factor to opt for replication is the sense of success that is discerned when the initiative is put in operation.


The Hindustan Times [HT] editorial on 12 November, 2019 recognized that on Indian side there were apprehensions and considered that getting on to negotiating table was unlikely till Pakistan takes action against terrorist leaders/groups operating from its soil. Thus in HT view, opening of the Kartarpur corridor ‘only represents a chance to dispel the pessimism by acting as a corridor of peace.’

The above editorial moderates the expectation placed on the corridor in that it discounts the hope of peace process getting started by the thaw created, but nonetheless acknowledges that it can be a trigger ‘to dispel the pessimism’ by acting as a ‘corridor of peace.’ So this joint act by both the governments to create Kartarpur corridor only brings a ray of hope to the environment of gloom that had come to prevail.

HT therefore sees the Corridor as a first response intervention. More concrete steps could follow as confidence building process starts yielding positive signs. So the Editorial seems to imply that by itself the Kartarpur corridor is neither a model nor an event akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is only an initial step to set off the peace process – its value lies principally in its symbolism of hope by lifting sense of gloom.

The Paper also mentioned that ‘Given the Pakistan Army’s role in all matters in construction of infrastructure and renovation of the Darbar Sahib, Indian government will continue to eye the corridor with caution’ – this intense mistrust is specific to the current situation and the cause of gloom and therefore has be dealt with, incrementally in manageable steps!

The CNN [20] has reported that the road link [highway corridor to temple constructed by Pakistan] is dubbed as the “corridor of peace” in local Indian and Pakistani media. This usage perhaps has devotional connotation for the Gurdwara environment invariably induces a sense of peace in the devotees. But then in a lighter vein, if the ‘drive going in’ from home is named as ‘corridor of peace’, what should the ‘corridor coming back’ home be called?!!!


Before we move on to further discussion, we do want to draw the reader’s attention to cautious remarks on the Kartarpur initiative by the US and UN compared to the effusive comments by the leaders of India and Pakistan. The US welcomed the development as mutually beneficial and UN saw it to promote interfaith harmony and understanding. Readers may also notice that CNN has reported that the connecting road is termed by the local media as ‘corridor of peace.’ They have not endorsed the appellation ‘corridor of peace.’

So while the international media gave coverage to the event, it is not clear if they took it to be a ground breaking development. It gave that 15 minutes of fame to many – perhaps Sikhs got the most press but that was incidental. Obviously political leaders of India and Pakistan are looking for some way out to scale down the tensions without loss of face but they and media know that in fact the electoral calculus and orientation of the majority is important for retaining power, not the outcome of the Kartarpur initiative.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan addressing the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor Photo: Imran Khan Facebook page


We are familiar with paralysis of governments, engineered by a fringe political, religious, ethnic or cultural group from within the religious majority. Instances of creating crisis to give a push to the populist agendas are also common. In all cases, protagonists may invoke emotive historical memory or arouse national or religious indignation to sharpen public responses in direction that increases support for their intended outcome.

Such strategies are employed everywhere and India and Pakistan are no exception. In fact chasm between liberal human rights principles and ethnic, national or religious majority interests in the two countries has only grown wider because of their highly charged political environments.

In such circumstances initiatives like Kartarpur Corridor could involve high improbabilities and risks along the way and it would be tricky to read euphoric sentiment of a wind of change into it. Just below the surface, may lay a pile of prejudice, pent up hate and frustration that may surface suddenly. In fact, in Pakistan, a TV show brought out that active opposition to the initiative was already being propagated by radical Muslims and in India, the 28 reader’s comments on a news item in Tribune exposed the intensity of the Hindu unhappiness at the development.[21]

At the realistic plane, the cynicism tinged with the type of mistrust and fear that existed prior to 1947 and had led to the partition continues to survive on both sides. Pakistan had started out as a Muslim state citing fear of domination by a Hindu rule that nursed historical memory pictured by the following summary [22] “M.S. Golwalkar took over as the second and longest-serving leader of the RSS in 1940. The same year he published, ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, in which he proclaimed: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to shake off the despoilers.” He declared that “we, Hindus, are at war at once with the Moslems” who “take themselves to be the conquering invaders and grasp for power.” The “cause of our ills,” he insisted, was the day that “the Moslems first tread upon this land.” Yet Golwalkar saw a glimmer of hope, claiming that the Hindu “is rousing himself up again and the world has to see the might of the regenerated Hindu Nation strike down the enemy’s hosts with its mighty arm.”

In Pakistan a recent report [23] tells us that Islamist parties in Pakistan say that against the backdrop of Pulwama [24]in February and Article 370 abrogation [25] in August, November Kartarpur corridor opening suggests that powers larger than civil leaders of Pakistan are pushing for the corridor as Islamabad aims to build leverage and possibly promote a separatist movement in Indian Punjab. Then there was the case of reported stone pelting at Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib on 4th January, 2020 that has evoked very strong response from Sikhs and Indian government. [26]

If the above political play continues, the real challenge for ushering in regional peace would lie in changing the prejudiced mindset of the majorities in the two countries to cooperate with peace initiatives. That is the burden of leadership and initiatives like Kartarpur Corridor may be able to help no more than supplement the efforts of leadership. The danger is that the leaders may let the initiative drift in trying to keep their electoral base energized.



[1] https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/kartarpur-corridor-pm-modi-thanks-pakistan-pm-imran-khan-for-respecting-indian-sentiments-550th-birth-anniversary-of-guru-nanak-dev/story/389455.html

[2] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kartarpur-can-change-face-of-south-asia-like-the-fall-of-berlin-wall-pakistan-foreign-minister-shah-mahmood-qureshi/story-m5FfxtjKcE4gHTvaOuwFfN.html

[3] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/us-welcomes-opening-of-kartarpur-corridor/858987.html

[4] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/30-minute-journey-to-guru-s-abode-a-lifetime-of-experience/859137.html

[5] See: https://www.dw.com/en/why-kartarpur-corridor-is-unlikely-to-defuse-india-pakistan-tensions/a-51166467 Gobind Singh is brother of Ramesh Singh Arora, the first Sikh nominated member of Punjab Assembly.

[6] Ravi Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service, Dera Baba Nanak, November 10, 2019.

[7] PTI Report published in Tribune 12/01/19 https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/kartarpur-corridor-army- chief-bajwa-s-brainchild-will-hurt-india-pak-minister/868334.html  The news set off an intemperate and divisive debate between Hindu and Sikh readers, some Hindus are concerned with the corridor opening. Tribune has hardly been receiving any reader comments on most items but this news drew 28 comments.

On the other hand, in Pakistan, extremist elements are unhappy with accommodation to the Sikhs because they see Pakistan as Muslim land and expect Sikhs to ally in battle against Modi and Hindus.

So the extremist elements are actively citing Corridor to drum up belligerency on both sides.

[8] @SMQureshiPTI #KartarpurCorridor #PakistanOpensKartarpur

[9] https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/6/17891/Peace-and-Friendship-on-the-Foundation-of-Kartarpur

[10] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_135906.htm – The link provides transcript of a video lecture by Dr. Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of Berlin Wall. The scope and import of changes that happened is immense and fundamental. Are India and Pakistan ready to even admit of such changes?

[11] https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/kartarpur-corridor-a-modern-miracle/cid/1719750

[12] Ibid Baburvani Reflection


[14] https://www.business-standard.com/multimedia/video-gallery/general/ex-pm-manmohan-singh-returns-to-india-after-visiting-kartarpur-sahib-in-pakistan-94021.htm

[15] Ibid. Gopalkrishna Gandhi sees the Corridor as an eminently reasonable, apolitical and unprejudicial stand-alone facility – almost totally risk averse if subversion possibility is kept in check.

[16] https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3037345/indias-ayodhya-verdict-can-modi-harness-religion-healing-and

[17] https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/caa-is-a-political-issue-use-the-indian-army-with-care/story-t3RCIMuqNIo6XTQ0RijliO.html

[18] The subject of using Interfaith Engagement for societal peace and harmony and as an aid to resolving international conflicts from Sikh perspective and Indo-Pak context are discussed in Author’s Book ‘Interfaith Engagement,’ 2015, Hemkunt. Text of the book can be accessed free at http://www.sikhsandsociety.org/

[19] Diplomat, Dec 11, 2018: Grant Wyeth is a Melbourne-based political analyst who writes on international affairs for the Diplomat.

[20] https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/india-pakistan-kartarpur-corridor-opens-intl-hnk/index.html

[21] Ibid see note 18

[22] culled from the paper ‘Ayodhya: A Symbol of Rule of Lawlessness’ by Pieter Friedrich, posted by IJ Singh on GLZ, Dec. 4, 2019

[23] https://www.dw.com/en/why-kartarpur-corridor-is-unlikely-to-defuse-india-pakistan-tensions/a-51166467

[24] On 14 February 2019, in a convoy transporting 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force personnel from Jammu to Srinagar, a bus was rammed by a car carrying explosives near Awantipora killing 40 CRPF personnel. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. Pakistan denied involvement.

[25] Article 370 of Indian constitution allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration. The Article was abrogated on Aug 5, 2019 and the state divided into two Union territories. For detailed analysis, see Wikipedia entry Article 370 of Constitution of India

[26] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/main-accused-in-nankana-sahib-vandalism-held-in-pakistan/articleshow/73120404.cms

[Nirmal Singh has written six Books on Sikhs and Sikhi and several of his Articles have been published in journals like Sikh Review, Journal of Sikh Studies and Comparative Religion, Abstracts of Sikh Sudies [IOSS], Sikhnet News and in the mainstream US news media. Resident in Orlando, he spends considerable time in Delhi.]

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