A PURPOSE THAT BINDS

Last week, on the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak, tens of thousands of Sikhs from around the world gathered at the Kartarpur Gurudwara in Pakistan. Many tickled in joy when the Government of Pakistan allowed Indian Sikhs to come there without a visa.

Religious tolerance in Pakistan is usually known to be low. Hatred for other religions have become a daily diet for the minds of the young Muslims. Religious schools and Madrasas peddle their venomous preaching constantly. This breeds intolerance and Islamic fundamentalism. Jihadi groups bred and nurtured in Pakistani soil go to other parts of the world to terrorize and conquer. They also become terrorists of different shades.

In recent years, within Pakistan the situation for Hindus has become really bad. What we gather from eye witnesses, Hindu women are being taken forcibly from their homes and being forced to marry a Muslim and convert to Islam. Hindu girls become extremely vulnerable as they are the first targets, Muslim mobs attack the men. The goons drive the men to hide for their lives. Then the women become easy targets. It cannot be said that such beastly action is the policy of the government at any level. But this happens all the time and police rarely do anything to prevent it. In most cases, police and the goons carry the same mindset. When Pakistan was formed, more than 10% non-Muslims - Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Zoroastrians - lived among its population. Today, their number has gone down to 3%. Those who are still there, feel unsafe and trapped.

As it appears, the current Prime Minister Imran Khan would like to change the mindset. But realistically speaking, he cannot. The military controls the political thinking of the state and its people. After going through many small changes here and there a push may come in the future for a big one. Right now, we just have to wait. What Kartarpur in Pakistan is to Sikhs, Ajmer in India is that to many Muslims. Each community would like to worship at its favorite shrine. Visitors coming in droves by buses, taxis, carts and on foot would help make the places vibrant. Through cultural exchanges of true kind they could influence each other's thinking. However, at this point it is small talk.

Right after Khan was inaugurated as Prime Minister, a group of Sikhs - some of them from abroad- approached him about Guru Nanak's Gurudwara is two and a half miles from the border. The Sikh community even offered to make the road connection. Prime Minister Khan was receptive and promised to build the road to facilitate the Sikh pilgrimage in time. By the time the birthday of Guru Nanak came around everything was ready to go from both sides. Prime Minister Modi was on the India side to send the party off and celebrate the occasion.

In recent weeks India's relationship with Pakistan has soured because the BJP Government of India has abrogated the special status of Kashmir and has brought the sate under the direct control of New Delhi. Pakistan did make some hue and cry about it. It raised the question at the UN. But nobody supported Pakistan's position. As a politician Imran Khan understands that the actual line of control is the de facto border between India and Pakistan. But to convince this point to Pakistan's military apparatus is not easy. Democracy is still weak in Pakistan and Imran Khan owes to the country's military for where he is now. So, going against the thinking of the military is not possible. However, this gesture of goodwill will go a long way in building trust, friendship and a spirit of give and take between the two countries. This particular action of kindness endears the people of Pakistan in many a heart. This is a sure way to peace and prosperity for both sides of the India Pakistan border.


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