Kartarpur Corridor

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A ray of hope, or not?

The Indian and Pakistani governments’ decision to develop Kartarpur border corridor to facilitate Sikh pilgrims is a welcome move as it can help bridge the gap between the two neighbours. What’s more interesting is that the development came around November 26, the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, largely blamed on Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a statement went as far as to say, “Who thought that the Berlin wall would fall? With the blessings of Guru Nanak, the Kartarpur corridor can become a reason to connect people of the two countries with each other.” This sure offers hope for restoration of ties but the question arises, what made the Indian government take the landmark decision?

The question becomes even more pertinent in the pretext of the anti-Pakistan sentiment that runs so high in India that anyone siding with Pakistan is considered a traitor. Same goes for Pakistan, as we have had the same strategic culture since the inception of the country – that India is an enemy and we need to build up a stronger defence against them. One reason for Modi’s rather pacifist statement could be to suppress separatist Khalistan movement in India.

While pointing out to the attempts to revive insurgency in Punjab, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had on November 3 said that we can’t close our eyes to what is happening in Punjab; if we do not take early action now, it will be too late. This decision is probably taken in view of the measures General Rawat was talking about. Like Pakistan, India also cannot afford these separatist movements. As India alleges Pakistan of supporting the separatist movements there, Pakistan also has the same concerns about the Baloch insurgency here. The recent attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi claimed by Baloch separatist organisation Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), followed by government statements citing ‘foreign hands’ behind the attack is just one example of this perpetual blame game.

One reason for Modi’s rather pacifist statement could be to suppress separatist Khalistan movement in India.

Maybe, the BJP government in India is trying to take a different course this time. With general elections approaching it wants to keep the Sikh community on their side. Moreover, Sikhs have traditionally been close to Pakistan for their cultural heritage that exists here. The building of Kartarpur corridor will surely please them and ensure their healthy participation in the elections.

However, the situation still remains grimy. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s statement hinting at peace with Pakistan, India offers little optimism as its key ministers, including Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, turned down Pakistan’s invite to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor. While their Punjab Cabinet Minister and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu were in Pakistan to attend the ceremony, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had declined the invitation, citing ‘terror attacks in his state and the relentless killing of Indian troops at the Line of Control’ as the reason.

Sidhu’s efforts to pave the way towards peace between the estranged neighbours through this cultural diplomacy are likely to go in vain this time too as he is largely portrayed as a ‘traitor’ by Indian society and media. This is not something new. As elections approach in India, their politicians always try to cash in on the anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Modi government has fairly succeeded in mounting up the pressure on Pakistan, constantly alleging it of state-sponsored terrorism, and it certainly aims to bring Islamabad to a point where it does not raise a voice about Kashmir or water issues. Not to mention the role of Indian media in this context, that is ever so keen to promote a hyper-nationalistic agenda against Pakistan.

Hostile neighbours around the world are keeping their tensions aside and moving forward with economic agreements, India and Pakistan can also use each other for such gains. Due to the political and security tensions, the trade between the two neighbours has been reduced to just $5 billion. For the bilateral relations to improve, trade and cultural ties between them have to be improved to the point that it creates mutual inter-dependence.

The two narratives are going side by side in both the countries but the enemy picture of Pakistan and India in respective nations definitely surpasses all. Pakistan has sent a positive message to the world, taking initiatives to restore ties, but India’s belligerence has diffused all such steps. Kartarpur corridor is a new ray of hope. For now, fingers are crossed as to what the future holds for the relations of the two countries, but peace in the region is in everyone’s favour.