Tolerant and Peaceful Pakistan: The Interfaith Highway

Among the national characteristics associated with peace, the attitude towards minorities sustains and reinforces the notions of tolerance and harmony. From the perspective of peace, Pakistan, through sheer perseverance, has made substantial achievements in the War on Terror over the past several years. Pakistani government and the Armed Forces, with full backing of the nation, decided to eliminate the specter of terrorism and took practical steps towards that end. The objective was clear: to drive out the extremist elements, and counter extremism that posed a major threat to the state and society. With significant gains in kinetic realm in the War on Terror and the resultant improved security situation, Pakistan is no longer constrained by the security concerns, and can proudly declare itself moving closer to its objective of attaining complete peace; a sentiment or view that rings true not only among the people inside our country but also among the visiting foreigners.
The return of peace, security and stability has brought relief to all sectors, notably tourism – both domestic and international – and is playing a pivotal role in enabling a conducive socio-economic environment. With a view to promote peace and harmony in the region and beyond, the Government of Pakistan decided to facilitate the Sikh community and the vision was transformed into reality in a record time of ten months despite the prevalent hostile environment. Accordingly, Pakistan’s decision to open the 4.5 kilometre corridor connecting the two most revered Sikh shrines; Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is a reflection of Pakistan’s support for the religious minorities. A step that has been appreciated by Sikh community from all over the world as it had been their desire to visit this revered site in Pakistan for over 70 years.
Matching the standards as per the significance of this site, the Gurdwara has been expanded (spread across 42 acres) to accommodate the incoming pilgrims. The complex will have a lodging facility, commercial areas, tourist information centre and a border facility area which is being constructed in two phases, the first phase of which has been completed. An 800 metre bridge over the Ravi River has also been reconstructed. The Corridor has paved the way for 5,000 Indian pilgrims to visit without a visa on a daily basis. 
This is a testimony of Pakistan’s principal concern for peace in the region and its sincerest steps towards interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence in a seemingly incurable situation. It reflects the true face of Pakistan in line with Quaid-i-Azam's vision of respecting the minority rights, reproducing his words from a press conference in New Delhi on July 14, 1947: “Minorities to whichever community they may belong will be safeguarded. Their religion of faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.”
While Pakistan inaugurated the Corridor on November 12, the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict on Ayodhya dispute underlined the two opposing directions; embracing the religious diversity in line with its Founder’s vision of religious freedom and interfaith harmony; and on the contrary, the myopic approach that tends to oppress the minorities in a society that is fast becoming radicalized. As things stand, it is hard to escape the impression that India is facing serious challenges when it comes to maintaining its democratic character and minority rights. The government has undoubtedly created an enabling environment for the over-enthusiasm of righteous citizen-proctors and state-sponsored terrorism. It is for the world to see how the priorities of the two countries differ markedly and who really is endangering peace with a religiously driven extremist party at the helm of affairs.
Regardless, Pakistan, as a result of the policies it is pursuing, can only profit from potential avenues of religious tourism and strengthen through strong community ties and inter-faith harmony. Pakistan has a rich cultural heritage of Buddhist, Hindu, Jains, Sikh, Christian and Muslim sites, and in particular Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism have spiritual significance grounded in Pakistan. In times to come, the effective management of religious tourism by bringing together the economic dimension with social cohesion and interfaith harmony can reap tremendous dividends.
Quaid-i-Azam, during an interview to an APA representative in Bombay on November 8, 1945 said, “Minorities can be rest assured that their rights will be protected. No civilized government can be run successfully without giving minorities a complete sense of security and confidence. They must be made to feel that they have a hand in government and to do this they must have adequate representation in it. Pakistan will give this.” Looking towards the future, the country is inching closer to its goals and ideals of an all-inclusive peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

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