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Kartarpur opening

Updated November 24, 2018

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IT was promised in August, appeared out of reach in September and was thought to be out of the discourse by October. But before the end of November, a new border crossing between Pakistan and India is just around the corner. That is how unpredictable the state of relations between the two countries is.

The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal, one of the holiest sites for Sikhs, will be accessible to devotees from the Indian side soon. India has accepted the Pakistani offer to build a new border crossing to facilitate pilgrims. In this case at least, the two states have overcome their mutual distrust to give their people a chance to mingle. The gift marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. The stimulus for it came in August when Navjot Singh Sidhu, politician and former Indian cricketer, came to Pakistan to take part in the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Mr Sidhu had a huge surprise waiting for him: an offer to open the Kartarpur border to facilitate pilgrims from India.

The proposal had been in the air since at least the 1980s but had been put on hold on some pretext or the other. This time, too, whereas the Pakistani side pursued the matter quite diligently, the Indian response was rather lukewarm. A decision by an Indian parliamentary committee was cited to suggest why the authorities still did not believe that the time was right for the opening of a new border crossing between the two countries. Better sense has since prevailed and perhaps the ruling BJP in India has realised that the step can win it goodwill in the run-up to the general election in 2019.

During Mr Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in August, it was none other than army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa who told Mr Sidhu that the Kartarpur border would be opened. And it is in the interest of long-lasting peace that India should heed his advice, given during his visit to the Line of Control in Azad Kashmir on Wednesday, to adopt dialogue as the way forward. Although the offer comes amid ceasefire violations and aggressive statements by the India military, as pointed out by Gen Bajwa, it is nevertheless a courageous one. The path to peace may not be easy, but the destiny of billions in South Asia would be vastly improved if tensions disappeared.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018