While reiterating that Kashmir was an internal matter of India, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said Pakistan should not link it with diplomatic or trade ties between the two nations. India, he said, wanted peace, communal harmony and development on the Indo-Pak border, people on both sides of which had suffered immensely due to the continued violence and hostilities…. A special report by Abhijit Sharma
Expressing concern over reports of a ‘discernible slowdown’ in Pakistan’s activities on the Kartarpur Corridor development, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the neighbouring country not to back out of its committment on the project, which was of supreme religious importance to the Sikh community.
Singh’s statement came after reports that India had sent Islamabad a reminder to hold meetings to finalise key decisions on the Kartarpur project.
With the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev just three months away, any slowdown in the project would delay its completion in time for the historic event, said the Chief Minister, adding that it would also serve a big blow to the Sikh community, which was dying for a ‘darshan’ of the place where its first Guru spent many years of his life.
On the issue of stoppage by Pakistan of trade at the Attari-Wagah border in the wake of its decision to downgrade diplomatic and trade ties with India, Singh said political concerns should not be clouded by any decision that was detrimental to the interests of the people on both sides.
“The stoppage of trade would, in particular, inflict heavy avoidable economic losses for the poor in Pakistan, as the goods would now have to take the long sea route through Iran or Dubai,” said the Chief Minister.
“Trade suspension would also lead to serious loss of jobs and livelihood for thousands of porters, truck and train drivers and staff deployed on both sides,” he added.
Singh termed as ‘incomprehensible’ the stoppage of trade on the pretext of some action taken by India with respect to a purely internal matter, and urged Islamabad to revoke the trade suspension in the interest of the people on both sides of the border.
India, he said, wanted peace, communal harmony and development on the Indo-Pak border, people on both sides of which had suffered immensely due to the continued violence and hostilities.
While reiterating that Kashmir was an internal matter of India, the Chief Minister said Pakistan should not link it with diplomatic or trade ties between the two nations. He called asked the Indian government to open diplomatic channels to press upon Pakistan to resume trade ties.
Khalistanis & Kartarpur
The long cherished desire to see Sikh devotees crossing into Pakistan to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi river, where founder of Sikh faith Guru Nanak spent last 18 years of his life, is near fulfilment.
India and Pakistan have two different attitudes towards the Kartarpur corridor. For the former, it is purely a Sikh religious pilgrimage. It abhors to mix it with politics or diplomacy. For the latter, the pilgrimage is of secondary interest. Its foremost interest is potential to use it as a bait to drag India into resumption of dialogue without satisfying its (India’s) pre-condition that Pakistan must abandon its support to terrorist groups. Pakistan’s cosmetic measures against its terror protégés under pressure of the Financial Action Task force (FATF) cannot befool India.
The two countries have shown their determination to complete work on a corridor that on the Indian side of Punjab will start from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the border with Pakistan. India and Pakistan announced in November last year to open the Kartarpur corridor for visa-free entry of Sikh Yatrees to Gurudwara Darbar Saheb. Nobody will deny that this is a great noble decision in the interest of spiritual joy for the Sikh community and of peace between the two countries. But slips cannot be ruled out in view of the two countries, history of wars and perennial antagonism.
In the very first round of talks on the proposed Kartarpur corridor between the officials of the two countries in March this year, the two sides aired their reservations. Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesman Mohammad Faisal, who was leading his country’s 18-member delegation, said the meeting took place in a very cordial atmosphere but the delegates had their reservations, which, he said, he would not disclose.
Perhaps some guess can be made about Indian delegation’s reservations which could be rooted in the insurgency in Indian Punjab in 1980s engineered by Pakistan to back up trouble in Kashmir. India naturally will not be very comfortable if Pakistan tries to promote involvement in the corridor project of Khalistani elements who keep sending money to Pakistan from abroad in the name of Gurudwaras. In March, India had objected to the inclusion of pro-Khalistani elements in a special 10-member committee constituted by Pakistan in connection with the corridor project. At this stage, the project seemed to be in danger of being called off if Pakistan did not remove pro-Khalistan activists from the special committee.
At the time of writing this piece it was not clear if Pakistan has constituted a revised committee addressing India’s concerns.
The irony of the Kartarpur corridor is that it is the noblest development in the bilateral history of India and Pakistan but pregnant with a great potential for mischief.
Pakistan says it will allow 700 Sikh yatrees a day. But India wants more to include Hindu and Muslims who venerate Sikh Gurdwaras and Sikh Gurus. India’s proposal is 5000 yatrees a day. President of the Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee Majinder Singh has written to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to request to allow 5000 Sikh yatrees a day and 10,000 a day on special occasions like Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday. He requested that the corridor be kept open all seven days of the week.
Perhaps Pakistan does not want to keep the corridor open the whole year round. This may be the reason why it is opposed to the construction of bridge on the zero line of the Kartarpur corridor to connect the Indian side. It is just constructing a causeway. But during monsoon when the Ravi River is in spate, nobody can use the causeway. This means about three months a year there will be Sikh pilgrimage from India through the Corridor. However, India is building a bridge over the zero line to connect to the road on the Pakistan border.
India hopes to complete the construction of the four lane highway from Gurdaspur to the border and a terminal building for yatrees much before the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in November this year.
As said above, this noble development in India’s relations with Pakistan is not without a possible mischief potential, thanks to the very happy history. You may accuse me of negativity if one refuses to forget Pakistan’s militancy role in initiating and sustaining insurgency in India’s Punjab with a handful of brainwashed youths in the 1980s. That Pakistan continues to be in touch with pro-Khalistani elements was evident from the composition of the special committee.
Those who keep a critical eye on Pakistan’s print media cannot fail to notice an undercurrent of preparations for blaming India if the corridor project is delayed, and crediting Pakistan if it is in time for the Guru’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations. This preparation is very subtle. The Pakistani Press has been carrying articles and statements giving credit to Imran Khan for this project ignoring India’s two decades old campaign for it. On the contrary, there is an effort to say that the project has been moving forward in spite of India. At the March 29 meeting when India objected to the inclusion of pro-Khalistan elements in the special committee and threatened to boycott the next meeting on April 2, Pakistan twisted it to say India was shying away from the corridor talks.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quershi held a press conference in Lahore to say that despite all the tension caused by the Pulwama incident on February 15, Pakistan participated in the Kartarpur corridor talks. He said India should not shy away from talks on the Kartarpur corridor. Incidentally, Mr. Quershi’s statement is typical of Pakistan’s bluffs to mislead the people. The Pulwama incident of terror and the mischief of including pro-Khalistan elements in the special committee are two separate things. Pulwama terror was committed by Pakistan patronized Jaish-e-Mohammad. What Mr. Qureshi seems to say here is that Pakistan participated in the talks despite all the mortifying embarrassment caused to it by India’s retaliation and international condemnation?
Mr. Quershi’s Press Conference (as also newspaper articles) creates an impression that Pakistan tried to use the Kartarpur corridor project as a play to lure India into a bilateral dialogue. He said he attended the Kartarpur talks despite the Pulwama incident. Pakistan, he said, wanted to move forward and improve relations with India.
A scholar of Islamabad Policy Research Institute had written in Daily Times, less than a month after India and Pakistan agreed on the Kartarpur Corridor in November last year, cautioning Pakistan against over-optimism about this project. Writer Maryam Nazir wrote that despite attending the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor, India has once again ruled out the possibility of resumption of dialogue and participation in the SAARC Summit.
It is known that the green signal for the Kartarpur Corridor was given by Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa at the time of Imran Khan’s swearing-in as Prime Minister in August last year. But if the reporting and comments of captive newspapers and especially of pro-GHQ English daily The Nation, are taken as an indication it looks clear that the Army wants to use the corridor to create suspicion among the Sikhs about India. In June, The Nation carried an article “Tragedy of Operation Blue Star” from grandeur of Sikh rule in the sub-continent to bitter memories of Operation Blue Star.
It will be naïve of anybody to think that India desired this corridor without preparing itself to meet the 1980s – like situation.