It was heartening to hear Narendra Modi praise Imran Khan for facilitating the opening of the 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general election and then after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir taken by his government.

Full credit for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision, in spite of the belligerent Indian posture throughout his tenure, must go to Imran Khan. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced the Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing in ceremony.

In the history of the India-Pakistan relationship most of the time Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in the usually tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, Narendra Modi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens who desire to visit the Ajmer Sharif dargah, through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.

It is an irony that on the day India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case says was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction’, Pakistan was offering another minority, Sikhs, the opportunity to worship at a shrine without the requirement of a visa, with a warm welcome.

Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims who have had a chance to cross the corridor to Kartarpur, it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians. However, it will be better if he also removes the passport requirement because the vast majority of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on the Indian side suggested, they should allow an Aadhar card instead.

The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan should make it free so it doesn’t hinder any Sikh Indian from fulfilling their dream of visiting the resting place of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

From our experience during the 2005 Delhi to Multan peace march, on foot in India and by road in Pakistan, we remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border who were disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so.

That peace march was conducted with three objectives: (1) India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K which should be resolved according to the wishes of the people who belong there, (2) India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets to free up resources for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of common people, and (3) Both countries should remove the requirement of a visa or passport, and allow free travel across the border.

It was the third demand which attracted most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated.

One Tadi Kirtan singer in a gurudwara, as we were approaching Jalandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made demand number one. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed it will become much easier to resolve the first two issues. We felt humbled being educated by a common man on the street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.

The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present foreign minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the Sajjada Nashin of the mazar of the Sufi saint Bahauddin Zakariya in Multan, where the march terminated. That day Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers which is easier said in India than in Pakistan: ‘One day Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanies.’ Such was the congeniality created due to the peace march.

Even if you look at the mood on the day when Narendra Modi was flagging off the 562 pilgrims from the Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the governments of the two countries disappeared like a magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmity is maintained artificially, and easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive. The enmity displayed between the two governments doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people.

After all, it is the same people who speak the same languages.

If the two governments exhibit more wisdom and allow citizens to meet freely, the animosity between the establishments will melt away.

The Indian side holds the present initiative of the Pakistani government in suspect. They think the Pakistan Army or Inter Services Intelligence might have the ulterior motive of encouraging Khalistani protagonists to create a disturbance in India. That is something the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur.

If we are always to be suspicious of the other, then no relationship based on trust can take off. The stakes for peace are so high, it will make the lives of so many so much easier, that it is worth taking the risk.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said that he will talk to the Indian prime minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historic gurudwaras there. Hence, despite the nature of the official relationship of the two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in the border areas on both sides.

The Indian position, that unless the Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism it will not dialogue with it, is somewhat untenable. It’s like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all the criminals and rapists in the Bhartiya Janata Party’s state unit it will not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government.

With the recent demonstrations in Pakistan against the Imran Khan government, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment is very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leadership India can expect Pakistan to have, to deal with. It should not fritter away the opportunity.

Narendra Modi should also realise that his Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh training has taught him only one way of mobilising public opinion: by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change the nature of his politics by appealing to the better senses of people to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could mobilise public opinion in his favour just as successfully.

The mood of the people and politicians on both sides of the border on November 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.