Tt has lately been relatively quiet on the India-Pakistan front, except for the occasional spat over Kashmir, which is not unusual. Jaded pundits, like this scribe, had been hoping that it wasn’t the lull before the storm but, rather, the dignified serenity of the end of a hostile winter before the onset of an embracing spring. It seems their prayers, triggered by the balmy spirit of Kartarpur last November, are being answered slowly to their utter delight.
It was the Imran Khan, Pakistan’s visionary prime minister, who set the train of peace in motion when he invited Navjot Singh Sidhu, his cricket buddy of yesteryears, to his inaugural last August. Sidhu, on that occasion, was given an undertaking by none other than the omnipotent army chief of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa, that Pakistan would facilitate a befitting Sikh celebration of their pioneer Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019 in Nankana Sahib on the Pakistani side of Punjab
Imran then took the initiative forward when he formally laid the foundation stone on November 28 of a “visa-free corridor” from the border with India right up to the saint’s Gurdwara in Kartarpur.
India had graciously sent two of its Sikh Cabinet members—Minister of Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State (with independent charge) of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri—to attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
Sanguine pundits had welcomed the Indian gesture of cooperation as a harbinger of better things to come. But there were also naysayers who had fantasised that Imran’s initiative had cornered India into reciprocating.
Since that spurt of activity both sides seemed to be dragging their feet—unwittingly or by design—on the follow-up work. That raised doubts about the longevity of the Kartarpur spirit. Foreign-policy gurus and media sleuths murmured in their nooks that domestic compulsions—more marked in India where general elections are in the horizon—had bared their claws to check and hold back any momentum.
However, naysayers have been proven wrong by the latest positive movement on the placid diplomatic front.
The foreign office in Islamabad announced, on February 7, that the wrangling over the venue of follow-up talks on the Kartarpur initiative between the two South Asian neighbours was over and the two had agreed, in principle, on the dates and venues of the talks to finalise an agreement on the implementation of the Kartarpur corridor.
In the first step, a Pakistani delegation will be going to Delhi on March 13, to break the months-old ice. Pakistani media prominently quoted Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar’s tweet that welcomed “the visit of #Pakistan team to discuss and finalise modalities for facilitating visit of pilgrims through Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 13 March 2019 to India. Follow up meeting can be held in Pakistan, as required ...”
In what could only be a good augury for fast-tracking the whole process, India seems all poised to move, simultaneously, on the technical aspects of the proposed corridor. Kumar also said: “For expeditious realisation of the #kartarpurcorridor, India has also proposed technical level discussions between engineers on both sides without waiting for discussion modalities. We hope #Pakistan would positively respond and confirm coordinates of crossing point as well ...”
An earlier Indian government statement had said that it had shared with Pakistan the coordinates of the “zero point”, the actual crossing point along the International Border with Pakistan.
The melting of ice—in winter—between the two estranged neighbours is being hailed in Pakistan as the first positive sign in months from India. It has, however, wrong-footed those cynics who had been chuckling and smirking that nothing positive would be coming out of India until it had seen the back of its upcoming general elections. The BJP, they pontificated, had poised its juggernaut to roll on a “hate-Pakistan” track and would be extremely reluctant to give an inch to accommodation of any sort with Pakistan.
Now that India has “bitten the bullet”, to dignify a common phrase used as currency of their trade by naysayers, the ball will be in the courts of both India and Pakistan. The burden of keeping the Jeremiahs on both sides in check will have to be equally shared by the two governments.
Those, like this scribe, congenitally committed to seeing a permanently salubrious climate prevailing over South Asia would hope and pray that the modalities of processing the promising Kartarpur corridor will not be devoured by any unseen trapdoors. Glad tidings will be keenly looked forward to.
They would also hope that the long-moribund dialogue essential to induce a comprehensive peace between India and Pakistan would get a boost from the spirit of Kartarpur. One little corridor should be the starting point for a highway to peace spanning South Asia. Lasting peace is the goal.
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat