The Express Tribune – A visiting Indian delegation opened my mind and heart

Nazia Jabeen

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 20 November 2019. When all eyes were on Kartarpur Corridor’s landmark inauguration scheduled for 09 November, a day before the main event (on 08 November), a group of Indian journalists crossed into Pakistan via the Wagah Border. They were in Lahore to attend the opening ceremony of the corridor ahead of the 550th birthday of Baba Guru Nanak on 12 November.

Baba Guru Nanak is also respected among the Muslims of Pakistan because of his teachings on humanism and unity, and against separatism and barbarism. I was the part of a team tasked with hosting the Indian journalist delegation and it was a riveting experience to say the least.

The 34-strong delegation comprised of both print and electronic journalists including at least ten women, most of them belonging to the Indian state Panjab.

On 09 November, they attended the inauguration of the corridor by Prime Minister Imran Khan. They were speechless as they got of the bus and soaked in the grandeur of the gurdwara. I too could feel that they were spiritually elevated there, forgetting that they were here to cover the event.

On the eve of Kartarpur Corridor opening, we had arranged a dinner for them at the Governor’s House. An all-vegetable and lentils menu did not go well with a few of them. A journalist said: “I was expecting some beef and mutton dishes too.”

When explained, that it was arranged viewing cultural and religious sensitivities of the delegates, the visiting journalist said that the love and respect the team had received in Pakistan, had changed his views about the country.

Besides attending the Kartarpur Corridor event, the Indian journalists were keen to see sights and shop in Lahore. Owing to the recent wave of smog and pollution in Dehli, the blue Lahore sky was really fascinating for the team.

They lamented that they had not seen the sky in a few days in Dehli. In about two weeks, as I write this, Lahore too is under a blanket of smog and schools are being shutdown, which is very unfortunate.

The delegates could not be taken to Lahore’s historical places including the Fort, Badshahi Mosque and Shalimar Gardens due to the paucity of time. They could only be taken to shop and when they got to the Packages Mall, the delegates went on a shopping spree.

They loved an array of Pakistani clothing brands. To the extent where they bought as many un-stitched and stitched pieces as they could. One of the Indian journalists even wore the Pakistan bought kurta on her journey back home.

Some of the women from the delegation really liked my dupatta, prompting me to gift them to all the women in the delegation. My personal gifts were accepted with smiles and gratitude. Only one journalist was reluctant to accept the gift because her newspaper had a strict policy but I insisted that it was not a gift from a news source but from a new friend.

This put her mind at ease and also started a beautiful friendship between us. I did not forget the men though, and decided to get cuff links for them but as journalists are known to dress for comfort one of them protested,

“I will need a shirt to use them.” “He means give him a shirt too,” quipped another delegate and with this laughter erupted.

The joke made me think about how much we share as neighbours, including our sense of humour. Everything during the trip went without a hitch, expect when it came to pronouncing some of the names. While counting the members of the delegation on the bus, at one point I said only Parveen is missing. A female journalist was quick to correct me politely, “Mr Praveen, not Parveen.”

The visit by the journalists from India really opened my eyes to all the things we share in common and how little the differences between us are. We speak the same language almost, we look similar and when we hang out with each other, we usually end up making the same jokes.

The interaction also opened my mind and since they left I have started reading about India beyond what news channels throw at me and have also gotten books about Hinduism and Sikhism.

The differences between India and Pakistan perhaps could then be called political and I feel if the governments on both sides work towards recognising what makes us similar instead of what sets us apart, maybe we can overcome the hostile history that the two nations share.

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/90997/a-visiting-indian-delegation-opened-my-mind-and-heart/

Dawn – Sacred thread of the soul

New Delhi – India, 12 November 2019. Sikhs across the world are celebrating Guru Nanak’s 550th anniversary today, and the fervour is enhanced by the opening of a key road between Pakistan and India that leads to his shrine in Kartarpur in Pakistan. Among the non-Sikhs who have revered Nanak are great Muslim poets.

Nazeer Akbarabadi among them (1740-1830) in a paean to the Guru celebrated him for the succour he brought to those who embraced his message of human fellowship before one God. Allama Iqbal saw him as the seer who raised hopes for India’s social enlightenment after the country exiled Buddhism to foreign shores.

Sikhs who have endeared themselves to Nanak’s world of fraternity include excellent men and women. Foremost these days, in my mind, are the gallant men who escorted Kashmiri women from faraway Pune to their homes in besieged Srinagar.

That they did so in the face of a delinquent state underscored the culture that Nanak bequeathed to his followers. Not any less in chivalry were the Sikhs who rushed to give succour and shelter to the communally shunned Rohingya refugees.

In a world overloaded with rites and traditions, Nanak’s followers have spawned a rainbow of eclectic heroes that few other religions can match.

Where there are ardent believers and a surfeit of Good Samaritans in the fold, there are socially committed atheists and communists too. There are affluent entrepreneurs, promptly countered by the best trade union leaders and even more militant Sikh peasants.

Let’s put it this way. There would no Bhagat Singh without the message of fellowship and human bonding he imbibed from the saint-preacher from the late 15th century.

Bhagat Singh who was hanged at the tender age of 23 wore the turban given by his religion but took it off without offending his community when he needed to disguise himself from his British pursuers to fight for India’s independence.

He used Marxism to imagine a socially and politically enlightened post-colonial India at peace with itself. One of his last pieces of writings argued his case for dying as an atheist while still being proud of his Sikh heritage.

Sikhs who have endeared themselves to Nanak’s world of fraternity include excellent men and women.

Open the mind’s apertures a little and you would find an utterly brilliant Sikh politician in Canada, one of several, actually. In 2017, the turbaned Jagmeet Singh, now 40, became the first non-white head of a major Canadian party.

His New Democratic Party is as far left as any in a First World country. There are rumours that Singh could become deputy prime minister in Justin Trudeau’s minority government whose numbers he helped slash in general elections two weeks ago.

In any case, it is delightful to hear him switch from fluent English to more fluent French while explaining his stand on issues. They may range from support to gay rights to opposing the expansion of a pipeline that carries oil through Canada’s mountains to its west coast, without first getting cleared by the threatened indigenous people.

Leave alone religion, could any Indian or Pakistani politician take a public stand on sexual orientation of their people or oppose a project because the people feared its adverse impact on environment?

Jagmeet was denied Indian visa for his stand on the 1984 massacre of Sikhs. But he sees himself as following Guru Nanak’s path of asking questions relentlessly, to help people fight inequality and ignorance imposed by Brahminical blind faith and superstition. That this follower of Nanak is a first class leader of a First World country says something of his heritage.

Jagmeet Singh’s unique style of turban helps project a stridently multicultural society he wants Canada to remain. He reminds one of liberal writer Khushwant Singh who opposed religious and caste bigotry in the footsteps of Nanak while remaining a self-confessed atheist. How many religious communities can accept the dichotomy?

Harkishen Singh Surjeet was an archetypal Sikh, sporting a turban and a steel kara while leading the largest communist party in India. The affable sardarji was among the last party leaders to promote the use of Urdu to attract the masses, a practice shunned by his successors to the detriment of their cause.

If Sikh women are at the forefront of the fight for gender rights it is because Guru Nanak was himself an ardent advocate of gender equality.

There is an uplifting song by the mystical minstrel Lalon Fakir in 19th-century Bengal, which seems to have its origin in Nanak’s teachings. Nanak was on the same page as the weaver-poet Kabir and cobbler-thinker Ravidas, who are thought to have been his contemporaries. “We can tell a Brahmin by his thread. How do we recognise his womenfolk?” Lalon wondered mockingly.

The question may have been lifted from a defining moment in Guru Nanak’s life when he was nine years old. His father, a high-caste Hindu, had arranged for the son’s thread ceremony but Nanak took the issue to his elder sister Nanaki who he loved and looked up to for guidance. He wondered why she never wore the thread. Why was it prescribed for all Hindus but excluded low-caste Shudras?

Nanaki said the question be raised with the Brahmin priest. Nanak was a brilliant student with a deep knowledge of the cultures and religions of his time. He asked the priest to explain the basis for excluding Muslims, many of whom were his friends, and Shudras and women from the thread ceremony. The priest said it was so prescribed by religious texts.

It naturally didn’t wash with the young boy, and after a long and absorbing discussion with the priest he found support from the guests who were listening in. The ritual abandoned, Nanak summed up his thoughts thus: “Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.”

Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@dawn.com

https://www.dawn.com/news/1516082/article-370-gone-and-ram-temple-on-the-way-what-does-modis-new-india-look-like

Sikh24.com – Can the Kartarpur corridor really help Pakistan in smuggling drugs and ammunition to India?

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, Op/Ed, 05 November 2019. Ahead of the opening of much awaited Kartarpur corridor, the Indian intelligence agencies have again started its malicious propaganda against the Pakistan government.

Interestingly, the Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh is being used as a mouthpiece by the Indian agencies for raising suspicion over the Pakistan’s pro-Sikhism intention to open the Kartarpur corridor.

This time, the Indian agencies have claimed of the presence of some training camps related to Jaish-e-Mohammad in Narowal. The reports of Indian intelligence also claim of the presence of huge numbers of “terrorists” including women in these camps.

Crossing all limits, the reports by Indian agencies claim that the Kartarpur corridor could be used for smuggling Drugs and promoting anti-India activities. Actually, all these claims are being planted deliberately in media to create a panic among Sikhs and other communities about the Kartarpur corridor.

Can the Kartarpur corridor really be used for smuggling Drugs and Ammunition?

The Kartarpur corridor terminal on the Indian side is being built by the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI). In this terminal, all the facilities for managing the entrance and exit of Sikh pilgrims will be given like usual air and sea ports of India.

In other words, we can say that the Sikh pilgrims will have to go through security check while leaving for Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib as well as while arriving back in India after paying obeisance there.

These days, the luggage and passengers at all ports of India is scanned with radiation detectors to bar entrance of any prohibited item like weapon, explosives and drugs. These scanners can scan the passenger and his / her belongings in a quick and reproducible way, without harming the person or items being examined.

Further, the facilitation of X-ray and CT scanners at all ports has enabled the security staff to fully watch in a clear way that what is inside the luggage.

Beside it, the trade is already going between India and Pakistan through various ports like Attari-Wagah, then how come this corridor is going to become a pathway for drugs and ammunition even when it is a non-commercial corridor.

Op/Ed: Can the Kartarpur corridor really help Pakistan in smuggling Drugs and Ammunition to India?

The Telegraph – Sikh separatists feature in Pakistan’s video on Kartarpur

The video featured Damdami Taksal chief Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his military adviser Shabeg Singh, who were kiled in Operation Blue Star

Lahore – Panjab – India, 06 November 2019. Three Sikh separatist leaders, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his military adviser Shabeg Singh, who were killed during the Operation Blue Star in 1984 have featured in an official video released by the Pakistan government on the Kartarpur corridor, triggering a controversy.

The video was released on Monday just days ahead of the inauguration ceremony of the much-awaited corridor, which will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Punjab with Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, just 4 kilometres from the International Border.

The video also showed a poster by a banned pro-Khalistani group, Sikhs for Justice, which is pushing for Sikh Referendum 2020 as part of its separatist agenda.

Bhindranwale was the head of Sikh religious sect Damdami Taksal. He was killed by the security forces in the Operation Blue Star in 1984. He is alleged to be the mascot of the Khalistan movement in which thousands of people were killed.

Shabeg Singh, a general in the Indian army, joined the Khalistani movement in 1984 after he was stripped of his rank and court-martialled on charges of corruption just before his retirement. Singh, believed to be Bhindranwale’s military adviser, was also killed in the operation.

During the Kartarpur corridor talks, India had conveyed its strong concerns to Pakistan over the presence of a leading Khalistani separatist in a committee appointed by Islamabad on the project.

Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, Pakistan and India after tough negotiations signed a landmark agreement last week to operationalise the historic Kartarpur Corridor to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.

The two countries decided that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine everyday and that additional pilgrims will be allowed on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion of facilities by the Pakistani side.

India and Pakistan have also decided that the corridor will be operational through the year and seven days a week and that pilgrims, except kids and elderly persons, will have a choice to visit it as individuals or in groups.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/sikh-separatists-feature-in-pakistan-s-video-on-kartarpur/cid/1717345

The Tribune – Pilgrim fee issue unresolved

Sandeep Dikshit, Tribune News Service

New Delhi – India, 17 October 2019. The government will be attempting to steal the march over Pakistan in a subtle tussle unfolding over celebrations of the 550th Gurpurb by organising the visit of 90 ambassadors to the Golden Temple On October 22, less than three weeks before the opening of Kartarpur corridor.

India and Pakistan are poised to sign a pact on the corridor. Islamabad has remained unmoved on the Indian request to scrap the $20 fee to be charged from each pilgrim.

The Ministry of External Affairs, resigned to this inevitability, said: “After several rounds of discussion with Pakistan, we have reached an agreement on all other issues, except the matter of service fee. Pakistan insists on charging Rs 1,420 from each pilgrim. We’ve urged Pakistan not to do so. We hope the agreement can be concluded and signed in time for the great event.”

Pakistan has almost agreed to allow an Indian consular officer to be posted during the time of the pilgrimage and to permit 10,000 pilgrims on special days.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/pilgrim-fee-issue-unresolved/848537.html

Hindustan Times – Next Punjab cabinet meeting at Dera Baba Nanak on 19 September

Dera Baba Nanak – Panjab – India, 13 September 2019. To ensure that it can monitor preparations for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of the first Sikh master, Guru Nank, the Punjab cabinet will hold its next meeting in Dera Baba Nanak on September 19.

This historic town in Gurdaspur district, along the India-Pakistan international border, only 7 km from Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur in Pakistan, was the last resting place of Guru Nanak. The celebrations that began a year ago are to culminate with a grand event in November at Sultanpur Lodhi.

“The chief minister has scheduled the next cabinet meeting at Dera Baba Nanak,” said Punjab co-operation and jails minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa during his visit to Government Senior Secondary School for Girls in the town on Friday.

He added that the 700-strength school will be converted into a smart, model school at a cost of Rs 40 lakh.

On the cabinet meeting, he added, “We will review the progress of projects such as the Kartarpur corridor and also of work done on sprucing up Dera Baba Nanak.”

He added, “Beautification projects are in full swing in the town; a park is being developed. A metallic statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh will also be erected in the main chowk of the town. Another Rs 7 crore have been sanctioned for the development of the main-street.”

He added the town was being developed as a city of fragrance by planting different kinds of flowers. “After completing his Udasis (religious journeys), Guru Nanak gave the message of doing kirat (work honestly to earn) and even cultivated land here. To commemorate this, we want a skill development centre to be established here.”

On the row between the state government and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) over joint celebrations of the anniversary, Randhawa said, “I will not indulge in religion-based politics. This politics is done by Badals through the SGPC.

I will continue to do sewa (service) assigned to me.”

https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/next-punjab-cabinet-meeting-at-dera-baba-nanak-on-sept-19/story-rHap6zKGxPqtHSGFhKvVZJ.html

The Hindu – Kartarpur corridor: India, Pakistan agree on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to gurdwara

Vijaita Singh

Attari – Panjab – India, 04 September 2019. India and Pakistan reached an understanding on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims based on their faith but no formal agreement could be signed.

“However, owing to certain differences on a few key issues, an agreement could not be finalised. Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit of smooth and easy access through the corridor.

Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of Indian consular or protocol officials at the gurdwara premises. Pakistan side has been urged to reconsider its position,” a government source said.

The third round of talks on the modalities for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor was held at Attari checkpoint in Punjab on Wednesday.

The Indian delegation was led by Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Pakistani delegation led by Director General (South Asia and SAARC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Persons of Indian origin holding OCI card too can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor. 5,000 pilgrims can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor every day. Additional pilgrims, over and above the figure of 5,000, can visit on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion by Pakistan side.

Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible,” the source said.

The corridor will be operational throughout the year, seven days a week, an understanding was reached and pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot.

“Both sides agreed to build the bridge at Budhi Ravi Channel. Pending the construction of the bridge on the Pakistan side, both sides agreed to the crossing point coordinates of the temporary service road being built,” the source said.

Both sides also agreed upon emergency evacuation procedures, especially medical emergencies. A direct line of communication between Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers will be used for the same, the source said.

Both sides also agreed to ensure safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims.

Pakistan has been requested, once again, to allow protocol officers from India to accompany pilgrims every day for facilitating their visit, the source said.

The Pakistan side has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims.

All the facilities on Indian side would be ready for the pilgrimage through Kartarpur Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kartarpur-corridor-third-round-of-talks-between-india-pak-underway/article29329827.ece?homepage=true

India Today – Pakistan hosts Sikh convention, urges scholars to raise voice for Kashmir

The convention was aimed at showcasing Pakistan’s “readiness to safeguard the rights of the minorities” and stand by them through thick and thin. However, it fast turned into a platform where Pakistan called on the dignitaries to raise their voices against the abrogation of provisions of Article 370.

Hamza Ameer

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 01 September 2019. Pakistan on Sunday hosted the first International Sikh Convention at the Governor’s House in Lahore, inviting over 50 Sikh scholars from across the world, and urged the scholars to raise their voice against alleged “India’s human rights violations in Kashmir”.

The convention was aimed at showcasing Pakistan’s “readiness to safeguard the rights of the minorities” and stand by them through thick and thin. However, it fast turned into a platform where Pakistan called on the dignitaries to raise their voices against the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 that gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, who was the host of the three-day convention, said, “Kashmir issue could be solved through dialogue if India shows seriousness.”

Sarwar also called on the Sikh community across the world to raise their voice and spread the concerns over what he termed as “India’s human rights violations in Kashmir”, asserting that “no religion preaches injustice to anyone”.

“Islam and Sikhism teach that the oppressed must be protected. We believe in one race and that is the human race,” he said.

Special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Firdour Ashiq Awan also raked up the Kashmir issue during the event and lashed out at PM Narendra Modi.

“It was the need of the hour that Indian premier Narendra Modi shun extremism in Kashmir and within India. The Sikh community should highlight the plight of the minorities in India across the world,” she said.

Firdour Ashiq Awan also said that Pakistan had showed its “positive intent towards peace” by returning Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman whose jet was shot down within the Pakistani territory. He threatened that “Pakistan’s wish for peace should not be taken as weakness”.

“If PM Modi will continue the genocide of the Muslims in Kashmir, Pakistan will no more act as a silent spectator and the consequences will affect the world,” Awan said.

Punjab Governor said that the Kartarpur Corridor would open on its assigned and scheduled time in November. “The Kartarpur Corridor will be opened even if the border situation worsens. PM Imran Khan will perform the opening ceremony,” he said.

https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/pakistan-hosts-sikh-convention-urges-scholars-to-raise-voice-for-kashmir-1594210-2019-09-01

The News – Sikh delegation arrives in Lahore

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 29 August 2019. A 22-member Sikh delegation arrived here on Wednesday on the invitation of Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar Chaudhry to attend the International Sikh Convention being held at the Governor’s House on 31 August.

Talking to APP, Sikh delegation leader Sardar Gurucharan Singh said they had come with the message of love between both the nations in the time of tension. “We should promote love instead of hatred between Pakistani and Indian people,” he added.

He said that opening of Darbar Sahib Kartarpur corridor on the eve of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Sahib was a praiseworthy initiative by the Pakistani government.

He said that eight Sikhs were coming by road from Canada to participate in the convention. The Sikh delegates will remain in the country till 04 September. They would visit different Sikh religious places.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/518957-sikh-delegation-arrives

Dawn – Pakistan welcomes over 500 Indian Sikh pilgrims for Guru Nanak’s birth celebrations

Adnan Sheikh

Wagah/Attari – Panjab, 30 July 2019. The government has allowed a special delegation of over 500 Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit Nankana Sahib for kickstarting the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

A special jatha of more than 500 Indian Sikh pilgrims crossed over to Pakistan through the Wagah border on Tuesday morning. According to the FO, the pilgrims will commence the celebrations in connection with Baba Guru Nanak’s 500th birth anniversary from his birthplace in Nankana Sahib on Thursday, August 1.

According to a statement released by the ISPR, 476 pilgrims reached Nankana Sahib today. The remaining 24 pilgrims will not be visiting, the statement added.

The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued visas to the Sikh pilgrims who are part of the jatha on July 26. These visas were granted “over and above” the thousands of visas that Pakistan issues every year under the framework of the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, 1974, the FO said.

“Pakistan feels honoured that celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak by Indian Sikhs are being started from Nankana Sahib, Pakistan,” read the press release.

It recalled that the Pakistani government is taking a number of initiatives, including the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, in order to make the upcoming birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak memorable and historic.

“Government of Pakistan also believes in the policy of promoting visits to religious shrines and people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and India,” the statement added.

The delegation’s visit comes a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan said that steps have been taken to facilitate the Sikh community through the Kartarpur Corridor, which will be opened in November.

Earlier in July, Pakistani officials had claimed making headway on “80 per cent and beyond” issues in the second round of talks with India on the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor that was held after much delay earlier in July.

Responding to a question about the number of pilgrims to be allowed to cross over to Pakistan to visit Kartarpur Sahib, FO spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal had then said: “We’ll go up to the maximum possible capacity and physical arrangements [to accommodate the pilgrims] whether these are enough for 2,000, 5,000 or 8,000 [pilgrims]. Our intentions are clear, we’re willing and it’s Pakistan prime minister’s initiative.”

A statement earlier issued by the FO had said that 70 per cent of the construction work on the Pakistani side of the Kartarpur Corridor had been completed.

Islamabad has formed a high-level committee comprising Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar and federal ministers Sheikh Rashid and Noorul Haq Qadri to monitor the arrangements for the opening of the corridor and the birth anniversary celebrations.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1497084/pakistan-welcomes-over-500-indian-sikh-pilgrims-for-guru-nanaks-birth-celebrations