George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Unexpected travels from Track II to Track I: The Kartarpur Peace Corridor between India and Pakistan becomes reality

December 14, 2018

An older gentleman who is sitting holds a long, sheathed sword and a plaque in his lap. Standing behind him from left to right are a Sikh man in a light pink turban, the sitting gentleman's wife, a Sikh woman, and a Sikh man in a red turban.

Photo credit: Christel McDonald

By Christel McDonald

In the last days of November 2018, the totally unexpected happened. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan agreed on building the Kartarpur Peace Corridor, which will allow visa-free access for pilgrims from India to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, which is located in Pakistan but viewable from India.

The peace corridor was envisioned by John W. McDonald, S-CAR Advisory Board Member Emeritus, U.S. Ambassador (ret.), and Chairman Emeritus of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD). In 2008, Ambassador McDonald visited with Sikh leaders in Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab, India, where he learned from Mr. Kuldip Singh Wadala about the dream of all 36 million Sikhs across the world to be able to one day again visit their holiest sites, three shrines holding the ashes of the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak (1469–1539), in Punjab, which had been separated by the India-Pakistan border in 1947.

A shiny black plaque with names inscribed on it, mounted on a wooden foundation.

Photo credit: Christel McDonald

Their many attempts to get the two countries to grant them unhindered access had failed again and again over the previous decades. For almost eleven years, Ambassador McDonald and IMTD—located in Arlington, Virginia—had advocated for the free access of all Sikhs to these holy shrines. They hired an architect to draw up the plans for a Peace Corridor, and in the ensuing years, they worked through their multi-track systems approach to peacebuilding with patience and perseverance to create a trust-building measure that was plausible and feasible for the leaders of India and Pakistan. Their plan was often considered, then again rejected, but hope kept the dream alive. And hope prevailed. The dreams of the Track II process were transformed into reality by Track I leaders at the end of November 2018.

On November 29, 2018, representatives from the leadership of the Sikh community visited Ambassador McDonald and his wife Christel in their home in Arlington, Virginia. They brought him sweets, a spiritual confection, a long sword—their symbol of honor—and a plaque, authorized by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, “for his dedication to the Sikh community toward the approval of Kartarpur Sahib Langha.”