Kartarpur: A bright spot on the horizon

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  • In the best interest of the region

One gets a petty satisfaction watching Teresa May’s trials, a vicious gratification witnessing Britain’s suffering in parting ways with the EU, nothing as those sufferings are compared to what the people of India went through when parting ways with each other back in 1947. More than a million people might still be alive had the partition of India remained a pipe dream, which it might have if India not been colonised.

As Al Jazeera reported a couple of years ago, Teresa May was only formally against leaving the European Union. ‘May was almost entirely silent during the referendum,’ it said, ‘and (now that Britain is headed for the exit), she has to stop the UK from fracturing any further.’

Did anyone, it is almost impossible not to ask, ever even try to stop Pakistan from fracturing further once it had parted ways with India? Jinnah’s famous, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state” sentiments were even then gloriously ignored, and they remain so. Pakistan has fractured in every way it could.

Anyway, Partition happened. You may wish it had taken place after the same deliberation and step by step approach as Brexit. That is the reason Brexit was brought into this column. At this stage to ask the question ‘are we any better off after Partition?’ is to open a large kettle of very long worms, so let’s refrain from that question here. We owe Pakistan our allegiance and loyalty, we accept reality and must move on.

Reality, however, does not help since nowhere does one find the promised country that was born only after the deaths of almost a couple of million persons. Is this it, this country whose citizens themselves are not safe if they belong to diverse religions and sects? In fact, they’re not safe. Period.

Ayesha Jalal speaks of Partition of India as ‘the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia,’ She calls it the ‘defining moment that is neither beginning nor end,’ and says that partition ‘continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.’

Pakistan is built on expectations of goodwill. Anything that complies with those sentiments is a good thing, and the Kartarpur Corridor, a bright spot on that horizon, seems to do so

Perhaps the defining tragedy of Pakistan is that that vision of the past, present and future is so widely disparate from one quarter to the next, and that the ‘wrong’ quarter appears to be winning the day. The past, as it is stuffed down our throats, has undergone gross distortions, as much as the hapless present and uncertain future.

Thinking along those lines, an event such as foundation of the Kartarpur Corridor is a long overdue bright spot on the horizon, a small but positive way of making it possible for people of other religions to ‘visit their temples in this State Pakistan’, although the people of Pakistan themselves have no such assurances under current conditions.

Observations in support of the Corridor generally result in a tu quoque comeback which says, ‘have you forgotten all that the Sikhs did against Muslims during the Partition of India?’

The answer is another example of the same kind of response: let us remember that the Muslims of India were no saints either. They committed their share of massacres.

I only just learnt the term ‘tu quoque.’ It means ‘an appeal to hypocrisy’ by means of which one tries to discredit an opponent’s argument by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with his argument’s conclusion. The term applies quite delightfully to most arguments flying around today.

If the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had gone along with the tu quoque fallacy he would have failed to understand that he was responsible for his own actions, however ignorant his opponents may be. History may have played out very differently then, and for those of us who care about Islam, that would have been a pity. However, that is an aside.

So, why bother with the Kartarpur Corridor?

The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh holy places between India and Pakistan — the shrine Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in Indian Punjab and the gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Punjab in Pakistan, the two being less than three miles apart. Cutting them off one from the other is like Muslims being able to visit either Mecca or Medina, not both.

If it becomes reality this corridor will allow Indian Sikh religious devotees to visit the gurdwara in Kartarpur without requiring a visa or a passport. The corridor is due to be finalised by this time next year.

Mr Khan’s counterpart on the other side of the border has compared the decision to proceed with the corridor to the fall of the Berlin Wall which, unusually for Mr Modi, is pretty apt. And in another aside, it would be interesting to know what both leaders this and that side of the border really think about the project and to what extent their hearts are in the idea of free movement between the two countries. There is of course always a way out, a U-turn for which Mr Khan has expressed enthusiastic support. Let’s hope a U-turn is neither required nor executed in this case.

Pakistan is built on expectations of goodwill. Anything that complies with those sentiments is a good thing, and the Kartarpur Corridor, a bright spot on that horizon, seems to do so.

Here’s wishing the corridor every success. We hope it will prove to be in the best interests of the region and its people. We hope that starting with this project we can leave the past where it belongs and move on, not in ignorance of the past but towards a better future.

Amen.