The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a proposed project between India and Pakistan that will connect the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib Gurdwara in India’s state of Punjab to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province, across the international border. For the Sikh community, the pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib is a life’s quest since it is here that Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru and founder of the great faith, settled after his travels as a missionary.
He lived here for 18 years until his death in 1539. Much against the current run of Indo-Pak relations, the decision to set up the Kartarpur Corridor—as it is colloquially called—must be considered something extremely pleasant with portents of more positivity if it is correctly handled. However, it is also true that in everything positive in Indo-Pak relations there is always an element of doubt arising out of suspicion about the intent of the other. Nothing should be taken for granted as something permanent as any positive step can evaporate in moments in the wake of a negative event. Yet, it needs reinforcement that the decision to construct the Corridor reflects maturity and political sense of purpose on the part of both governments.
To make the Corridor a success, this maturity will need to be continuously on display. The decision to launch the project from the Indian side on November 26, the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack, took many by surprise but there may have been some reason for the government to select that date and there is no need to postulate on that. Refusal to send anything more than measured signals to Pakistan by politely declining the invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for the launch ceremony on the Pakistan side on November 28, was again a sign of diplomatic balance.
Two senior Sikh representatives from India at the Pakistan ceremony—one from the government and one from the Opposition—is also as good a decision as it can get. However, political functionaries in India will need to exercise restraint on their utterances lest a simple launch ceremony such as the one on the Indian side gets hijacked into political wrangling. I actually felt a sense of appreciation for Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the Punjab Minister for Jails, who had the courage to be correct and call a spade a spade at the ceremony. He stated quite clearly for all to hear: “This is neither a Congress stage nor a BJP one. It is a function dedicated to Guru Nanak Dev and the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, and as such we must maintain its sanctity.”
Indian politics can sometimes sink to very low levels and also rise to extremely high levels of sense of responsibility. The Punjab Chief Minister’s decision to decline the invitation for his presence at the Pakistani launch on the other side would probably be in consultation with the Central Government, which clearly is seeing this as a cultural initiative rather than a political one.
How did this sense of deja vu appear in subcontinental politics that from a position of ‘no talks’ until Pakistan revokes proxy terror, India agreed to the proposal of a Kartarpur Corridor? While Pakistan promised nothing, continues its proxy campaign in Jammu & Kashmir and is attempting to rekindle the sentiments of potential Sikh separatism, it managed to convey that there was scope for improvement of ties with India. India on its part, firm in commitment, appears to have left a window open even as analysts appreciate that until the upcoming parliamentary elections there can be no peace initiatives.
It is a risk that India, and more specifically the current NDA government, may be taking although the sentiments of the decision to create the Kartarpur Corridor are clearly overshadowing the politics of negativity.
Pakistan could surely have done better with some concrete display of intent to bring a durable change in it pursuance of proxy war.
It is clear that once the sentiments of the moment are past us, the reality of threats will remain. The realisation cannot go away that Pakistan is yet to do anything to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice. Since it should not take too long to construct the visaless corridor, the real test will be how far it will desist from attempting to influence pilgrims who visit Kartarpur Sahib. Even this year’s traditional Sikh pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and Sacha Sahib in Pakistan—the Sikh jathas—were subjected to propaganda by pro-Khalistan elements and Indian diplomats and officials overseeing the event were prevented entry.
Pakistan continues to live by its well-known dictum of unpredictability. Prime Minister Imran Khan is attempting to prove that he is pursuing policies free of the Pakistan Army’s agenda. Hamstrung by a failed economy he is per force constrained to display a sense of responsibility before the international community. Whether this translates into something more will depend on the Pakistani Generals who have traditionally not loosened the strings of control. Clearly for Imran this is a moment to grab and look at economics as the agenda to pursue with India. In that there is everything positive for Pakistan and once it is seen to help it may not be easy for the Generals to try and sabotage it. India perhaps needs loads of patience and given the fact that elections are approaching, it need not take initiatives but also not be averse to giving Imran Khan a chance in Pakistan’s moment of crisis.
In the realm of India-Pakistan relations, pathbreaking initiatives have a way of failing; perhaps the slow and steady route with halts to reinforce gains could yet be the answer. The Kartarpur Corridor should be seen as the beginning of such an approach.