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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2429

Thaw In India- Pakistan Relations

By Malladi Rama Rao

Kartarpur Corridor heralds a new but unexpected thaw in the frosty relations between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan. Sikhs in India have been demanding the corridor for several years. It will enable them to reach the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan. It is believed to be the first Gurudwara ever built; it is also the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism died and hence a must visit for every devout Sikh.

The shrine is just three kilometres from the border. But right now the Indian pilgrims make a long journey to reach the place; they first go to Lahore from Amritsar by train, and then travel 120 km by road to Kartarpur in Narowal District.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi government has surprised its critics and the acolytes alike by its decision to build the Kartarpur Corridor from the Indian side to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak early next year. Pakistan government will complete the project on its side covering a distance of just three kilometres.

By design or accident, the foundation for the Indian side of the project was laid on 26 Nov 2018. It brought back memories of the mayhem Pakistani terrorists of dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had perpetrated on India’s financial capital, Mumbai on this very day in 2011.

Maverick Trump’s Republican Administration has added fuel by telling Pakistan that lack of action against the 26/11 perpetrators is an ‘affront’ to the kin of the victims. Secretary of State Mike Pampeo announced a fresh $ 5 million bounties for information ‘leading to the arrest or conviction’ of those involved in the ‘barbarity’.

So the new India-Pak CBM (confidence building measure) has sparked off a fiery debate. Pakistan has contributed to the debate no less in the week leading up to inauguration of the work on Kartarpur Corridor.

Pak Army Chief Gen Bajwa delivered a strongly worded homily to India against ‘any adventurism’ at the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. He visited the area and interacted with his troops. And Pakistani media, which has come under Army chains in recent months, has gone into an orchestrated overdrive on anti-Indian campaign.

The Deep State in Pakistan is known to resist and thwart CBMs with India. But what is happening now falls into the pattern that has become a familiar spectacle to the distress of peaceniks on either side of the Radcliff Line that divides the two countries which were ruled as one entity first by the Great Moghuls and then by Colonial Britain for long centuries. Every CBM in the past saw a terrorist strike on Indian installations followed by roll back of peace efforts.

No surprise the latest Modi CBM has sparked off heated debate on the Indian TV channels with guests from Pakistan made to squirm with unease. Indians appear worried that the Kartarpur Corridor will revive the Sikh secessionist movement that has been engineered, aided and abetted by Pakistan Army’s Intelligence Service, ISI. Pakistan wants India to pay for the sin of mid-wifing the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Two other factors are adding to the dismay amongst peaceniks at present. Only a week ago, Pakistani security personnel and a group of Pakistan-based Khalistanis prevented diplomats from the Indian Mission from meeting the visiting Indian Sikh pilgrims, despite Islamabad’s permission. Khalistani secessionist flags fluttered and Khalistani slogans were pasted around the Kartarpur Gurudwara.

What was Pakistanis excuse? “We wanted to ensure the safety and security of Indian diplomats”. Local police could have easily rounded up the anti-India elements since most of them are known to be under ISI protection. They could have been prevented from reaching the gurdwara. Neither recourse was taken. The question why is met with deafening silence from quarters that matter in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Well, Pakistan stopping Indian diplomats from meeting visiting Sikh pilgrim is not new. It has become part of a drill. Pakistan, going by reports, has been converting every visit of Sikh pilgrims into an anti-India event in recent years.

Once the corridor to Kartarpur becomes operative, a large number of Sikhs from India will use it on a daily basis. And for the Pakistanis it will be godsend to spread their message of hate and secession while looking to revive the Khalistani movement within India. It will be another weapon to make India bleed with thousand cuts.

From the Indian perspective, there is another danger lurking in the shadows. It relates to Pakistan’s support to a “movement for referendum” in Indian Punjab to seek an independent homeland for the Sikhs. Styled as ‘Referendum 2020’, it has been started by the ISI-nurtured Khalistanis living in Pakistan and in countries like Canada, the US, and the UK.

To the dismay of ISI and its masters in the GHQ Shura, the Sikhs in India have generally remained indifferent to the idea of the so-called ‘Referendum 2020’. Indian Sikhs have ignored the new Khalistani movement as a whole just as they did three decades ago, when the Pak military junta went into an overdrive to set Indian Punjab on fire.

Besides terror and Khalistan, Pakistan has also been exporting something else to India, particularly Punjab. It is drugs. Smuggling large quantity of drugs into India has been adding to the anti-India coffers of the ISI.

A corridor that provides 24x7 access to India with little hassles will be ideal for pushing drugs and brainwashing susceptible minds for carrying out anti-India activities.

How India will face this new challenge from a neighbour who has not yet reconciled to history remains unclear. It is possible that Indian government has factored in the ground realities while opting for the Kartarpur Corridor.

One thing is clear though. There may be no dull moment on India-Pakistan theatre, often dubbed as the theatre of the absurd.

- Asian Tribune -

Thaw In India- Pakistan Relations
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan
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