It is ironic that two countries coming into existence on basis of religion and ‘extremes of divides’ ensemble in the name of religion. Though Pakistan’s intentions are spelled by many statements of Prime Minister Imran Khan, foreign office and the famous ‘hug diplomacy’, India is not ready to reciprocate for want of a policy shift. As chatter from India indicates, it is not an olive branch but a thorny acacia twig that shall bleed India more.
What ‘bleeding India more’ through the Sikh Card means and how it will continue to stall prospects of peace between the two countries is evident from the hard line of Indian government and its mouth pieces? It is likely that India will tread the Kartarpur path in slow motion with extreme caution, lest it tips the religious sentiments against itself. Even if it does, it will retort by saying, ‘we said so’. It also wants to nullify a bargaining chip Pakistan could use in future. But the ultimate question is; does Pakistan actually plan so? My assessment is No!
Pakistan’s policy of ‘giving peace a chance’ is evident. Priority is to put its own house in order. Major emphasis is on domestic growth, human resource development and sustainable economics. The new social contract in Pakistan prefers a roadmap to conflict resolution through negotiations. Military and the government are on one page. War and violence between two nuclear-armed neighbours is not a solution to crises. Diplomacy must take front seat to resolve all disputes including Kashmir. Dividends will be trade, economic prosperity, people to people contact and India’s integration into economic corridors.
Though the opportunity is tempting, Indian reluctance in any policy shift is evident.
Indian government credits itself for successfully isolating Pakistan and barricading held Kashmir. For them ‘counting money in a card game’ is at hand. It reckons it has US dominated capitalism and Geostrategy in its favour. Time to sort out Pakistan is imminent and it is ‘now or never’. Indian hardliners see Pakistan’s gestures as a tantrum to wriggle out of an inevitable defeat and put a ‘choke hold’ on India. India is also emboldened due to a ‘window of vulnerability’ it perceives in strained Pakistan-USA relations. Being the preferred strategic partner, it endeavours to impose itself as the regional hegemon
It is attributable to the gradual shift to rightist politics dominated by the Sang Parivar. This means BJP politics of using Pakistan bogey to portray ‘the enemy’, ‘the ultimate evil’ and the invisible ‘jack the ripper’ killing Indians in cold blood, and ‘an angle of death’ haunting the streets and walkways of India. Indian primetime media with daily chatter sprayed with vitriolic and hate constantly reinforces such themes, making Pakistan a household name to scare children. Every day for three hours, Indian primetime channels assemble a team of experts and mount their incessant anti Pakistan sledging.
BJP government is cognisant that the so called ‘civilised world’ is slumbering over rise of communalism in India and human right violations in Indian Held Kashmir. It is convenient to lump Pakistan into the ‘evil curve’ and keep beating drums of hate and violence; hence, a low key response to Pakistan’s Kartarpur initiative. This response is planned and sustained at multiple levels to extract maximum negative leverage.
Though opening of Kartarpur Corridor means jubilation for Sikhs all over the world, it is more significant for Sikhs living in India. Once operational, they will be able to walk across on a simple permit from Dera Baba Nanak Shrine in Gurdaspur India. India does not want this to happen and will follow a ‘wait and see’ delaying tactic even to the chagrin of Sikh sentiments; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
What irked India is that the initiative also attracted Sikh separatists viewed as a security threat. Consequently rather than see this initiative as an olive branch, Akali Dal, BJP and segments of Indian media craftily project and broadcast it as a Pakistani stratagem fanning fires of Khalistan. Statements coming from Sikh leadership are guarded and cautious. Those coming from Indian media are outright slander.
India Today has captioned this suspicion as ‘Sidhu, a photograph and how Khalistanis may misuse Kartarpur Corridor’ and then goes on to chastise him. According to Times of India, Pakistan’s decision to agree to this corridor was likely driven by its isolation as well as a calculation to radicalise and indoctrinate Sikh pilgrims from India. It also demeans Pakistan’s logic of nuclear peace and opines that limited conventional conflicts are still possible, a clear reference to hybrid war, strategic strikes and Cold Start.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema has called Navjot Singh Sidhu a Pakistani agent for getting himself photographed with Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee General Secretary Gopal Singh Chawla and hugging General Bajwa. He has aligned himself with BJP.
In addition, the Indian Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) President Gobind Singh Longowal has also attracted ire of Indian politicians and media for meeting Gopal Singh Chawla.
Indian leader of the delegation, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri also distanced himself from this diplomacy. He said, “The fact of the matter is that the ground reality is characterised by one state using terror as an instrument of policy against a neighbouring state”. In the process he has undermined his historic presence.
The above indicate that divisions have already begun to surface. The Indian government will exploit these divisions, create incidents in Indian Punjab and make the whole initiative look like a big conspiracy against itself. Pakistan’s good intentions will be lost.
Policy planners in Pakistan must not lose sight of their ultimate objectives. To promote and manifest religious tolerance, Pakistan must take a leaf from Malaysia and Indonesia with sizable Hindu communities. India or no India, Pakistan must continue the policy of opening up religious sites it has in abundance.
The most important Buddhist sites in Taxila, KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan should be restored for tourism and worship. Assistance could be taken from China, Japan and Sri Lanka.
Already major restorations have taken place in Raj Katas. Pakistan’s Hindu community should be encouraged and facilitated to make it functional and festive. The same also applies to the Hindu Temples of Hingol Park.
Nagarparker is a major heritage site of Jainism. These should also be protected and restored with cooperation of Jain community from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
These initiatives will boost Pakistan’s egalitarian image as also tourism. This is the real pathway of Kartarpur and not what India perceives.
Let India sulk in the aura of its greatness.