Border crossing opening unlikely to thaw Pakistan-India ties


–Former envoy says a breakthrough requires something in Kashmir

KARACHI: Pakistan is set to open a border crossing for Sikh pilgrims to attend the birth anniversary of their founder, Baba Guru Nanak – a move unlikely to thaw tensions with India, according to experts.

Observers view the much-demanded move as a “successful” attempt to win the hearts of Sikhs from India and across the globe.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is slated to inaugurate the opening of the Kartarpur border crossing ahead of the three-day event Nov 10-12, which is expected to be attended by thousands of Sikhs from North America, Europe, and India, including India’s two-time premier, Manmohan Singh.

Islamabad and New Delhi last November agreed to open the crossing that connects Pakistan’s northeastern Narowal city to India’s eastern Gurdaspur district.

Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara situated in Narowal, 115 kilometers (71 miles) from the provincial capital Lahore — is one of the most revered temples for the Sikh community because Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life there.

The distance between the temple and Gurdaspur is 3 kilometers (2 miles) but the closure of the crossing forces pilgrims from India to travel hundreds of kilometers, via Amritsar and Lahore, to reach it.

Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province is home to some of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs. They include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 in Nankana Sahib district, and Gurdwara (monastery) Punja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, where the handprint of Guru Nanak is believed to be imprinted on a boulder.

The number of Sikhs is estimated to be as much as 40,000 out of a population of 200 million in this South Asian Muslim country.

Hearts and minds

An irate Pakistan suspended trade, downgraded diplomatic ties and even denied Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi passage through its airspace following India’s scrapping of a decades-long special status of disputed Jammu and Kashmir in August.

Islamabad, however, stuck to its plans to open the Kartarpur border as per schedule despite spiraling tensions with New Delhi.

“It is obviously a joint venture but I do not expect any breakthrough with respect to ongoing tensions between the two countries,” former Pakistani ambassador Shahid Amin told Anadolu Agency.

“A breakthrough requires something in Kashmir,” said Amin, who served as envoy to Saudi Arabia, France, Nigeria, and Libya and the former Soviet Union.

He believes the Karatarpur initiative was more religious than political, in an attempt to “please” the Sikh community from India and rest of the world.

He went on to say, however, in some ways it would help develop an understanding between the two sides.

“After all, India is a partner in this venture. It has constructed a portion of the corridor on its side. Secondly, many Sikh political leaders would also come from India. This all may help reduce the spiraling tensions to an extent”, he said. “But any major breakthrough is unlikely to happen.”

Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst said Pakistan brought a huge majority of Sikhs to its side through the Kartarpur move.

“Islamabad has wisely played its cards going ahead with its Kartarpur plans despite heightening tensions with India,” Ali told Anadolu Agency the Sikh community, especially in Europe and North America, has been supporting Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir.

“Sikhs have taken part together with Kashmiris in scores of anti-India protests across the globe after New Delhi’s Kashmir move,” he said. “[The] opening of Kartarpur border, which was a longstanding demand from the entire Sikh community, will further strengthen this partnership.”

Sardar Ramesh Singh, chairman of Pakistan Sikh Council dubbed the Kartarpur corridor a “peace corridor,” which would help bring the people of Pakistan and India closer.

“Pakistan has won the hearts and minds of Sikhs across the globe. We are thankful to Prime Minister Imran Khan for making this longtime dream come true,” he told Anadolu Agency.