Millennium Post

Indecisive welcome

Given how tensions spiralled quickly and matters escalated between India and Pakistan over the government of India's internal unilateral decision to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating its special status granted under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The tensions between the Asian nations compounded to the extent that Pakistan launched itself in full force to achieve its aim of mobilising the international community and consolidating support against India. In the back drop of this development, the previously decided-upon project of Kartarpur corridor is proceeded with. As expected, matters would go far from smoothly, and some of the prominent glitches include the insistence on a visa and a deposit amount. In the latest development, Pakistan has taken another U-turn over passports being issued to Sikh pilgrims visiting Guru Nanak Dev's shrine in Pakistan just days before the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor to mark the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev's 550th birth anniversary. It came through Major Gen Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of Pakistan Army who said that Sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur Gurudwara will be required to hold a passport. This development also comes days after Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Kartarpur pilgrims from India will not require a visa. It is only a matter of hours for the inauguration of the historic corridor, but the confusion prevailing over the passport issue has not subsided as the country has backtracked several times from its stance. In a first significant turn of events on October 24, Mohammed Faisal, Pakistan's spokesperson of foreign affairs, announced that the pilgrims visiting India will have to carry passport which will be scanned but not stamped. He, however, calrified that visa will not be needed for the Indian pilgrims. Subsequently, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed through a tweet that his country has waived off two requirements which includes allowing Sikh pilgrims to come without a passport, adding that the pilgrims will require to carry only a valid ID. The other requirement that was waived off was that pilgrims are no longer required to register for the visit 10 days in advance. Recently, Major Gen Asif Ghafoor said to a private TV channel that the entry to the country for Kartarpur pilgrims will be visa-based. He added that the country cannot compromise on its security and sovereignty. As much as the project is in focus, the matter of security and sovereignty assume special significance in this context.

It was earlier understood that Indian pilgrims have been exempted of all passport and visa requirements as the Indian side have been informed through official channels about the decision. In what is clearly a snub to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Army declared that a passport is compulsory for Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur. Dawn News quoted Hum News channel as Maj Gen Ghafoor saying that "As we have a security link, the entry would be a legal one under a permit on a passport-based identity. There will be no compromise on security or sovereignty". A valid perspective on the part of Pakistan, national security is certainly a matter on compromise should be allowed. This project was first proposed in early 1999 by the then Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif as part of the Delhi-Lahore Bus diplomacy. Given this context of the pre-Kargil time, the Kartarpur Corridor project was looked upon as an initiative to bring the two neighbours closer. But times are very different now, especially in the wake of Pathankot, Pulwama, Balakot strikes, and now the dramatic Article 370 move, the equation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours has changed more than drastically. Although Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan sees this corridor as comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from a strategic perspective, it requires more than sheer optimism to foresee things. A persisting concern is that this corridor might become a means for Pakistan to undermine India's security. Punjab's Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh pointed out to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence for the attack few weeks back stating that the Punjab government has neutralised 15 terror modules in the last 18 months. Another major security concern is that this religion-clad trans-border project could end up being used for propaganda in Pakistani supported pro-Khalistan separatism. There is already evidence of pro-Khalistan posters and sloganeering at Pakistan's gurdwaras. Among the promoters of the Kartarpur corridor are some of Pakistan's Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee office-bearers who are known supporters of the Khalistan movement. At present, pilgrims from India have to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur. This is a 125 km journey despite the fact that people on the Indian side can physically see Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. With a wider view of the matter, the question that remains is if this was the only way to mend ties with a neighbour that has a history of causing only detriment to India?

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