One of the ironies of Partition is that while virtually the entire Sikh population of the subcontinent lives in India, after having been brutally forced to leave Pakistan, the Sikh religion itself was born in what is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The revered founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, was born in Nankana Sahib and died at Kartarpur Sahib, in what is now Pakistan. Kartarpur Sahib is located barely 10 km from India’s international border with Pakistan. Sikh massacres also took place during the reign of the Mughal Emperors, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. The martyrdom of the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev, occurred during this period. The Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore commemorates the spot where Arjan Dev died in 1606.
Devout Sikhs were distressed by the Partition, as it denied them access to three of their holiest shrines: Nankana Sahib, Dera Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib. The most famous Sikh shrine in India is the Harmandir Sahib—the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Pakistan pondered over how to use its Sikh shrines to convey that Sikh beliefs were closer to monotheistic Islam and at variance with polytheistic Hinduism. Pakistan’s diplomatic missions encouraged Sikhs in the UK, Canada, the US and Australia to visit their gurdwaras and to convey to their brethren in India that they were being discriminated against. But it was military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, who supplemented this with a policy of promoting visits by India’s Sikhs to Pakistan’s gurdwaras. These pilgrimages have been used to incite and promote disaffection amongst Sikhs in India.
Political blunders by India enabled General Zia to foment and promote disaffection in the Sikh community. Sikh pilgrims were subjected to a constant Pakistani propaganda barrage, claiming exploitation by ‘treacherous Hindus’, while adding that as a monotheistic religion, Sikhism was closer to Islam, than Hinduism. But, despite these developments, the Sikh community has remained a pillar of strength in secular, democratic India. Responding to calls from the Sikh community in India, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee personally took up the issue of opening the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, where Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life, for Indian pilgrims in 1999.
The Pakistan army had then strongly opposed this idea. But Imran Khan, duly encouraged by Army Chief General Bajwa, grandiosely unveiled plans to open the Kartarpur border for pilgrims from India on November 27. Nevertheless, Pakistan continued to sponsor and promote cross-border terrorism in J&K and across the Punjab border. All this is accompanied by large-scale drug smuggling, aimed at undermining the will and resilience of people in Punjab.
Given its own internal economic crises, political frailties and diplomatic isolation, Pakistan’s grandiose plans to promote discontent and religious divisions in Punjab can be contained, by vigilant management of border areas in Punjab. Delhi has enough time to prepare to meet challenges of cross-border terrorism posed by Pakistan, while also devising measures to reciprocate appropriately within Pakistan.