By Durdana Najam
No matter how the policymakers from both the countries plan, some realities never change between India and Pakistan. The opening up of the Kartarpur corridor is one such reality. The circumstances in which Pakistan was born from United India may have instilled bitterness in the hearts of the ideologues and politicians on both the sides. However, the uncanniness of the ordinary people, their capacity to move on and set aside the unpleasant memories of the partition, and their unflinching faith in the promise which every future holds. This has also worked like a balm—keeping the wounds from festering.
If religion was a contributing factor in the creation of Pakistan, religion has also been one of the many reasons to return peace between both the countries. We may have arsenals full of missiles and nuclear bombs, and we may have warships pointing towards each other, however the gravitational force of human love will always be mightier. The opening up of this new border should be welcomed with open arms and spirits; something missing in India’s attitude. Pakistan wanted to record the historic moment with Indian high office bearers on its side on the ground breaking ceremony on November 28. Pakistan wanted to mark this event as a new beginning to a new set of confidence-building measures. However, like always, India has remained stubborn.
When Imran Khan came to power, he invited India to restart the dialogue process. He tweeted: “To move forward Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts including Kashmir: The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading.” In September, Pakistan again offered India to restart talks on all issues including terrorism. Pakistan also suggested holding SAARC summit in Islamabad. When Khan was on a state visit to Saudi Arabia, he reiterated the desire to bring India closer, and said: “Peace with India would help the two countries divert their resources towards human development instead of indulging in the arms race.” Nothing worked and the response to all these overtures has been a simple no, with a clichéd tagline: “terror and talks cannot go together.”
The wind of change indeed came about when India approved to open a visa-free corridor for the Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. The backchannel diplomacy has succeeded in thawing the ice in bilateral relations but India is not ready to wear this conciliatory face. It is pertinent to note that the Kartarpur corridor has been opened when both India and Pakistan are involved in bitter mutual recrimination. While a consistent firing at the Line of Control has been posting bad news of civilian deaths, the recent attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi was also blamed on forces “operating from Afghanistan with the Indian support”. For India, Pakistan’s inability – to rope in the insurgent groups that may have been fuelling the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir – is a living bane.
Only time will tell if the opening up of Kartarpur corridor was grounded in goodwill or was it a strategic move to appease the domestic and the international audiences. India is going to polls in May 2019, and BJP government desperately needs a plank that smacks religious harmony. There is a growing dissatisfaction among the Indian civil society for the party’s Hindutva agenda that has seen India going wild in accomplishing it. India’s democratic demeanour came under severe criticism when it refused to grant visas to sportsmen, artists, politicians and intellectuals from Pakistan. People seeking treatment in India were given visa only when they directly communicated and pleaded with the foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.
Ever since the BJP government has come to power in 2014, people have been prosecuted and killed for their faith, ideological leanings and differences of opinion with the party. So blunt has the party been in exposing its intolerant attitudes that when the then President of the United States Barack Obama delivered a speech, on India’s Republic Day in 2015, he was forced to say: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines,” He further added that: “Nowhere is it more important to uphold religious freedom than in India.” On another occasion, at the annual prayer breakfast in Washington, Obama reiterated the same saying: “a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs.” Such “acts of intolerance,” he said, “would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped liberate that nation.”
Whatever be the reason behind the warming up of the two nations in the context of Kartarpur corridor, the reminder here is that India and Pakistan have many common grounds to share peace and hospitality. And that it is in the favour of both the countries to use these grounds to unite for peace. This century has been called the “Asian Century”, where Pakistan and India are bound to play important and decisive roles because of their strategic locations and importance. Nevertheless, Pakistan does not have to look at India to embark on any peace initiatives. The regional context demands that Pakistan takes a more holistic and a larger role in the regional peacekeeping mission. Kashmir and Afghanistan are just a step away from both India and Pakistan’s mutual desire to liberate millions of people from suffering because of the strategic bedlam of the “power that be”.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. (firstname.lastname@example.org)