This Kartarpur breakthrough took everybody by surprise, didn’t it? Nobody, not even Imran Khan, expected any headway, in any manner. But the local press is treating it as more than a small victory for Islamabad; even a soft coup of sorts. Much credit must go to the Pakistani army chief. Sure, it’s political governments that should take such decisions, but some aspects of foreign policy will remain prime military jurisdiction till a prospective thaw assumes more concrete proportions. That much, fortunately or unfortunately, is the reality of the subcontinent. Besides, though Imran is one hundred per cent behind the idea – and even inaugurated the border crossing on Wednesday – he had not even legally become prime minister when Gen Bajwa shared the idea with Navjot Singh Siddhu in August. Apparently proposals for the corridor – a 4km stretch of land that will allow visa-free access to Guru Nanak’s shrine – were lying dead since 1988 because neither government had the inclination to take them forward. That explains why the Sikhs, at least, couldn’t care less about diplomatic niceties as they descend on Lahore for the Guru’s 550th birthday celebrations. Yet it still hasn’t been the smoothest of rides. Navjot’s glee, apparently, was not been shared by the BJP high command in India. And when he went to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to get the ball rolling, he got a rap on the knuckles, for ‘misusing the political clearance (given to visit Pakistan)’. And, sure enough, the conservative press gutted him. Still the final Indian response, however diplomatically reserved, is encouraging in the larger scheme of things. Sushma could not come for the groundbreaking because of ‘prior commitments’ but two government ministers did attend. And they got to see, firsthand, the goodwill on the ground; something they would not have expected. The locals will have even more to celebrate. Announcements have already been made about construction of a five-star hotel and numerous hostels in addition to all the commercial spillover that comes with tourism. In Modi’s own immortal words, tourism is a significant driver of growth and benefits everybody in society right down to the paan wala. Kartarpur, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, falls in the Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province. It was, quite naturally, the nerve centre of Sikh devotees going all the way to the 16th century. And then they were suddenly flung over to the other side because of partition; the fateful cesarean section of the subcontinent that uprooted all sorts of communities from their homes of centuries and caused the largest needless mass killings of the 20th century. Until now devotees have prayed from a distance, looking through binoculars installed on the Indian side of the border, barely three kilometers away, while the Pakistani government helped by trimming trees and keeping the view clear. Signs that the Sikhs never took the displacement as permanent could be found even decades after partition. All sorts of valuables – old family pictures, documents, especially large pots of the finest gold you can find in India – were found buried all across this land. “We thought we would come back after a few months, maybe even a couple of years, when the fuss died down,” I remember an aged Sikh tourist saying in 2005, when thousands crossed over from both sides as part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) of Gen Musharraf and Manmohan Singh. “Nobody believed, really, or was willing to believe, that we would never come back.” They are a long way from coming back, but the corridor comes as close to the next best thing as possible under the circumstances. Just to be clear, history is not going to be rewritten anytime soon. And, as India’s refusal to send their PM over for the SAARC summit due in Pakistan signifies, there’s still far too much bad blood between the two to make any meaningful progress. But that’s between the governments. It’s a different story altogether at the people-to-people level. Youth bulges on both sides, which have little understanding of the generations-old hatred that keep the governments at daggers drawn, need an environment of peace, commerce, investment and jobs. And they have always warmed up to the ‘historical enemy’ whenever given a chance. It was for a reason, after all, that the CBMs brought the two countries “within a signature of settling Sir Creek (dispute).” No better words to sum up expectations, perhaps, than Siddhu’s as he came across the border saying, “.the Kartarpur spirit can make pilgrims of us all, venturing out on a journey that breaks the barriers of history and opens the borders of the hearts and minds.” Published in Daily Times, December 1st 2018.