When Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone for the Kartarpur Corridor recently, it was lauded as a bold move by Sikhs across the world, and many others besides.
The corridor will ultimately connect the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in the Narowal district --- the final resting place of Guru Nanak --- with Dera Baba Nanak --- a shrine also dedicated to Sikhism's founder --- in India's Gurdaspur district.
Sikh pilgrims have found it difficult to visit both places of pilgrimage, with tensions between India and Pakistan running so high historically. This, then is a dream come true for them. Fulfilling a religious duty for a believer of any religion is very important and is a sign of respect, spiritual satisfaction and tolerance for other faiths.
It is being said that the Corridor will also prove to be a path of peace, building bridges between the two countries. Mr Khan also said that he wants a good relationship with India, adding that there is no other option than friendship for the two nations.
The gesture is also being hailed as a breakthrough by governments around the world, including the US, who have long declared the only solution to the tensions between India and Pakistan is bilateral dialogue.
The initiative was not welcomed and appreciated by everyone closer to home though --- some Indian politicians and the media are expressing different views, which has disappointed Imran Khan and the Pakistani Government. Unfortunately, politicians and some religious groups on both side always trivialise such endeavours.
Undoubtedly this is a significant move by the Pakistani government, but I do not think the government will achieve what they are hoping from it. There are too many on both sides with grievances, having failed to move on from the situation of 1940.
Back in 1938, the 'two nation theory' was necessary to prove that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations, thus justifying the genesis of Pakistan. However, there was no need for this antagonism to last so many decades.
In his two-nation theory speech of 1938, Quaid e Azam also said in reference to India and Pakistan, "I am confident (both) will settle down as friends and neighbours like Canada and the United States."
Instead of having a relationship like America and Canada our bilateral relations are worse than ever, while those countries (America and Canada) have treaties of regional trade and co-operation such as the Northern Alliance Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and we are still far from anything similar
In his address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi on 11 August 1947, Quaid-e-Azam said: "Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense ... but in the political sense as equal members of the state."
However, it was not to be: instead of having a relationship like America and Canada our bilateral relations are worse than ever, while those countries (America and Canada) have treaties of regional trade and co-operation such as the Northern Alliance Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and we are still far from anything similar. Signing such a trade agreement can be instrumental in preventing hostilities and promoting peace.
The European Union is another example of formerly warring nations now peacefully trading with each other. If India and Pakistan were to cooperate like this, there is nothing on earth that couldn't be achieved.
However, there is another block to Pakistan earning the status of a 'progressive' nation, committed to peace and fairness.
Imran Khan has earned much appreciation for opening the Kartarpur corridor, but I see no signs of him making similar concessions for Pakistan's own minorities, including Christians.
Our nation's 2.5 million Christians are scared by Mr Khan's promises to make Pakistan a Medina like Islamic state. More recently the Prime Minister has also declared that there is no mention of Jesus in history --- a statement which is deeply hurtful for the nation's Christians as well as being palpably untrue historically speaking, whatever your religious persuasion.
It is a sad reality that from its inception, minorities have never been considered equal citizens of Pakistan. And, criminally, their role in the founding of Pakistan has never been recognised.
It was the Christian community who, during the partition, looked after Muslim refugees from India and gave them medical aid. The Catholic Priest Father Silas led caravans of Muslim and Hindu migrants to their destinations safely and securely. I could go on...
Christians have played an important role in our defence forces, particularly in the air force where many were promoted to the highest positions. A few gallant and courageous officers were awarded with the highest honours.
Pakistani Christians have always been at the forefront whenever Pakistan has needed them; they fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim brothers to defend their country whether in 1948, 1965, 1971, Kargil or Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
I am wondering if Imran Khan, who has doubtless seen the happiness on the faces of Sikhs, could take the time to observe the sadness and fear on the faces of his nation's Christians. They are never allowed to visit their holy places in Palestine and Israel.
And, tellingly, as Imran continues his expanding his cabinet, this is the first time in the last 50 years that there is no Christian cabinet minister.
The sad reality is that that new Pakistan is proving no different for Pakistan's beleaguered minorities. Imran Khan who claims to want to make the country into Quaid's Pakistan, seems far from that man's vision. Quaid was driven by a desire for fairness. He was keen that Pakistan's minorities didn't suffer in the way that Pakistan's Muslims had. He assured minority leaders the full protection of the state and guaranteed that they would have equal rights under the constitution.
We have failed to protect and safeguard religious minorities' constitutional and political rights through inserting several articles into the constitution of 1973 like 2A, 41(a) 93(a) etc. to bar them from participating and fulfilling their roles in the government.
Now is the time to accept the truth and change our policies to fit Quaid E Azam's vision and give minorities the rights they deserve --- including safe passage to their own holy sites. Kartarpur Corridor: good news for Sikhs, but no progress for our minority pilgrims.
The writer is a freelance columnist
Courtesy: Daily Times