Bridging the Sikh Divide

Kartarpur Sahib—In the next few days, US Ambassador (ret.) John W. McDonald, Chairman and CEO of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD), will formally call on the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan to move forward with a confidence-building measure that would establish a peace corridor between two of the holiest Sikh religious sites – Dera Baba Nanak in India, and Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.

The two sites are only six kilometres apart, and IMTD believes the move will be welcomed by many in the 36 million strong Sikh community worldwide, particularly the nearly two-thirds who reside in India.

McDonald, who believes the peace corridor is of critical importance to larger trust-building measures in the region, says he will remind the foreign ministers of their interest in moving forward on the Sikh peace corridor in letters of gratitude that follow the Indian foreign minister’s agreement to implement another IMTD peace-building programme, a new bus route linking Pakistani Muslims with a sacred mosque in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

‘Since 1947, the three Sikh shrines in Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib have been set apart by a border which didn’t exist when they were built,’ he says. ‘Every day since separation, millions of Sikhs pray to make the journey between the shrines. The Peace Corridor would answer those prayers without undermining Indian or Pakistan security. It also would mark one small step in bringing together Indians and Pakistanis who have been torn apart by years of conflict.’

IMTD has drafted a 55-page feasibility study outlining how the corridor could be built, complete with architectural schematics and engineering diagrams. The IMTD report was to be drafted by the Indian government following a commitment by a former foreign minister to move forward on the feasibility study. However, the 2008 Mumbai attacks derailed those plans as tensions escalated between the two governments.

Rather than wait for the idea to come back into favour with the current governments, McDonald made the decision to develop a feasibility study, and raised the $200,000 required to support the work entirely from private donations.

‘You can’t always expect governments to do everything,’ McDonald says. ‘This unique confidence-building measure for a Sikh Peace Corridor is ideally suited to be developed and put forward by an experienced non-governmental organization like IMTD.’ He adds that the peace-building effort will include business leaders, private citizens, religious leaders, and media heads in the hope that they ‘can bring weight to bear on the governments in ways those inside government often can’t.’

‘It would be a huge mistake to think that only government officials be diplomats,’ he says. ‘Look at the Sikh Diaspora. They are willing to put up the $17 million required to build the peace corridor. This takes government funding out of the equation…Sikh business leaders on both sides are already willing to build new businesses within the corridor.’

Of course. IMTD is only one voice of many calling for the governments in India and Pakistan to implement cross-border programmes at this time, but McDonald told me he hopes that his organization’s long-standing commitment to the region will help ensure that his voice is heard.

‘This is too important of an issue for us to accept inaction,’ he said. ‘The peace corridor needs to move forward.’

Eddie Walsh is a freelance journalist and academic based in Washington DC. His work has been featured by ISN Insights, The East Asia Forum, The Jakarta Globe, and The Journal of Energy Security. He is currently DC / Pentagon correspondent for The Diplomat and recently completed post-MA coursework at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He can be reached at [email protected].


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