A thaw amidst thorns
Inaugration of Kartarpur Corridor despite resounding animosity between India and Pakistan holds significance
Since the partition of the country, India-Pakistan relationship is marked by continuing mistrust, unresolved issues, broken promises and unending conflicts. Any thaw in this relationship is viewed with much excitement and hope in the country.
But this time the opening of Kartarpur Corridor between the two countries evoked a mixed response. The reason for this is that Pakistan has been changeable and most unpredictable in the past and hence the opening up of Kartarpur Corridor, connecting two Sikh holy shrines – Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India and Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, though a welcome step, is unlikely to lead to a process of composite dialogue between the two countries.
Pakistan continues with repeated ceasefire violations at the border and attempts to export terror to India. New Delhi has made clear that terror and talks cannot go together. The international community has suggested that both the neighbours resume the dialogue process after India abrogated special privileges accorded to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two Union Territories. India maintains that this action is within the scope of its internal affairs and its arguments have been backed by many countries, even though Islamabad differs on this issue. The international community is more concerned about the possible fallout between the two nuclear powers. The Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has hinted the possibility of nuclear threat at the recently concluded UNGA, while India remains steadfast on its Nuclear Doctrine – "no first use".
The demand for opening up the corridor leading to Kartarpur Sahib was raised by India on several occasions. During the historic visit to Lahore on the Sada-e-Sarhad or Delhi-Lahore Bus, the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee raised the issue of opening up of Kartarpur Corridor with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. Subsequently, after the coup that ousted Nawaz Sharif, his successor General Pervez Musharraf as Chief Executive of Pakistan gave a green signal to construct the corridor on the Pakistani side. The then Chairman of Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Lt General Javed Nasir shared the details of the plan with General Musharraf. But this proposal could not be taken up for final agreement between the two countries.
According to news reports, Lt General Nasir was a hardliner in the Pakistani army who believed that "Khalistan" could be achieved through peaceful means. In a reception hosted by then-president of Delhi Gurudwara Management Committee, Parmjit Singh Sarna in Lahore, Lt General Nasir reportedly argued that Sikhs must get their demands regarding separate identity incorporated in the Constitution before launching a separatist movement.
Later in 2014, the then Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh informed the Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh that New Delhi would take up the issue again with Pakistan in the next bilateral talks. But no progress was made.
In August 2018, the former cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, on his visit to Islamabad on an invitation to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan, took up the issue with Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa who agreed to open the corridor on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Shree Guru Nanak Dev jee.
Accordingly, India too moved fast. On November 22, 2018, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi resolved to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Shree Guru Nanak Dev jee in 2019 and approved the development of Kartarpur Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district up to the international border on the Indian side. On November 26, 2018, the vice president of India, M Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone on the Indian side in presence of Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh.
Following this, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Pakistan by Prime Minister Imran Khan in presence of Indian politicians – Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hardeep Singh Puri and Navjot Singh Sidhu. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Imran Khan called for resolving all bilateral issues through a renewed dialogue process. But the then Indian Minister for External Affairs, late Sushma Swaraj de-hyphenated the Kartarpur Corridor project from the composite dialogue process. She said terror and talks cannot go together. For resumption of bilateral talks, Pakistan has to stop repeated ceasefire violation at the border and refrain from exporting terror to India.
It is laudable that keeping in view the sentiments of Sikh devotees, India de-hyphenated the Kartarpur Corridor project from the composite dialogue process and moved fast to develop the corridor and integrated check post. Inaugurating the Kartarpur Corridor on the Indian side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 9, 2019, reminded how the Berlin wall was pulled down uniting the two Germanys and hoped the same should be the case of connectivity between two neighbours. Will Pakistan think on this line? Should it not stop ceasefire violations at the border and refrain from exporting terror to India and come up for a composite dialogue between the two countries? Prime Minister Modi also promised setting up of an Interfaith University in Amritsar and declaring Sultanpur Lodi as a heritage city. He also stressed on connectivity and thanked the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for cooperating in opening the corridor.
But Pakistan based on a particular theological ideology considers India as an enemy country. This is particularly the case with the Pakistan military and the ISI, while the civilian leadership has no option but to toe the line. As per the MoU signed between the two countries, Indian Sikhs were to pay $20 per person and carry their passport. But Imran Khan proposed as a show of goodwill that passport was not necessary which was ultimately turned down by the Pakistani Army. In a plague put up in front of Kartarpur Gurudwara, it said that India Airforce dropped a bomb in 1971 war with the intention of destroying the gurudwara but it could not happen due to the divine powers of Shree Guru Nanak Dev jee. This sort of propaganda is unlikely to affect the minds of a majority of Indian Sikhs who are more nationalist by nature.
The Indian cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was at the inauguration ceremony at Kartarpur Sahib, praised Imran Khan more than Prime Minister Modi. He should know that it was India which first pleaded for opening up the corridor long back and Prime Minister Modi put in equal efforts to develop the corridor on the Indian side in record time.
Whatever may be the hidden motives of Pakistan in opening up the Kartarpur Corridor, it is laudable that India took the right step in de-hyphenating corridor project from the composite dialogue process, keeping in view the sentiments of Sikh devotees. The greatly revered first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev jee spent at least las 18 years of his life in Kartarpur. He attained Joti Jot (heavenly abode) from this site. He was the living Apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity. Will Pakistan learn from the teaching of Shree Guru Nanak Dev jee? IPA
Views expressed are strictly personal