Sun. Feb 23rd, 2020

Pakistan opens the door to Indian Sikhs in a rare gesture of cooperation

Pakistan today opened a corridor that will allow Indian pilgrims to visit one of the most important temples of Sikhism, a rare gesture of cooperation between the two powers that thrilled the followers of that minority faith.

Thousands of turbans colored the Darbar Sahib temple in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur, with songs chanted in groups and smiles to overflow with the agreement between Islamabad and Delhi to make the sacred site accessible to the Indians.

"It is only the beginning," Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a speech, which did not miss appointments to the Prophet Muhammad and Nelson Mandela.

"I am glad that we could do this for you," added the president, who took the opportunity to attack the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who opened the corridor from his side of the border.

The Indian president, who valued the figure of Nanak, did not refer to his counterpart, although he touched on one of the lacerating issues between the two nations by ensuring that the suppression of Kashmir's special status helped the Sikh community in the region to " have the same rights as other citizens, "according to the ANI agency.

Among the attendees, an excited Avtar Singh, a former 86-year-old Indian soldier, exuded happiness.

"I have prayed for this moment to come," the old man born in Pakistan told Efe, but emigrated to India in 1947 during the partition of both countries.

The former soldier recalled that Darbar Sahib is one of the most sacred places of Sikhism, since here he lived 18 years and died in 1539 the guru Nanak, founder of this religion that has about 30 million followers worldwide.

"And I will continue to pray for the two countries to get closer," Singh said, in a wish that probably won't be fulfilled soon, given tensions over the Kashmir region.

Nor could Harpreet Singh of New Delhi hide his emotion: "It's a dream," said this 31-year-old real estate agent, who had already visited the temple twice.

The young man found a different temple from the past, with a huge esplanade built around the historic construction and new walls, the result of Pakistani work in recent months.

"It's totally different, better. They've done a great job," he said.

The inauguration takes place three days before the 550th anniversary of the birth of Nanak, so thousands of Sikhs have come from around the world for the celebration, including Americans, Australians or Canadians.

The agreement reached between India and Pakistan will allow 5,000 pilgrims to visit the temple daily, which will be open seven days a week, without a visa and will only need to show their passport to identify themselves.

The entrance will cost 20 dollars (18 euros), an issue that continues to generate discrepancies between the Indian and Pakistani governments.

Before, visits to the temple by the Indians used to involve tedious paperwork, they could only be done in groups and it was difficult to obtain visas.

The rare gesture of collaboration occurs at a time of greater tension than usual between the two nuclear powers after in August India ended the special status of Kashmir, a region disputed by both countries.

Pakistan responded to India's decision by "lowering" the level of its diplomatic relations, expelled the Indian ambassador to Islamabad and suspended bilateral trade.

In February both countries experienced their worst war escalation in decades with bombing and hunting down.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars and several minor conflicts since independence in 1947.

Jaime Leon

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