By Agha Hussain
Pakistan’s decision late last year to build the visa-free Kartarpur Corridor for the Indian Sikh pilgrims received global acknowledgement as a noble peace gesture. It was also undeniably a peace gesture taken by Pakistan and not a nefarious act of subterfuge against India.
Such a description of the move seems apt, until, however, one brings into the context Pakistan’s geopolitical and geostrategic realities, following which it makes little practical sense. The peace gesture was made toward Pakistan’s traditional, historical and ideological foe. It also came despite no change in India’s hostile attitude toward Pakistan.
In what turned out to be an emphatic emphasis of the futility of the ‘peace gesture’ and the non-existent gains it brought Pakistan, India triggered a military escalation a few months later. While Pakistan emerged the clear victor on the military front, the Kashmir escalation nonetheless demonstrated that the Kartarpur initiative had achieved nothing with regard to de-escalating tensions.
Also exposed by the Kartarpur initiative was the obliviousness of the Pakistani government, occupied for the first time by the PTI party fresh off election victory toward the immediate political atmosphere in India. The months leading up to Indian elections are well known within Pakistan for the amplified anti-Pakistan rhetoric and the initiative could not realistically achieve anything in such an atmosphere; even if its planners considered only and purely election-based euphoria in India as a factor.
Let alone gauging solely the elections euphoria accurately – as if such even required an effort given how visible the public mood of a country as large as India is at all times – the PTI government also missed the bigger picture regarding the progression of India’s hostility. This also renders as failed attempts by no shortage of Pakistani pundits to portray India’s hostility – rooted in ideological Hindutva hatred of Pakistan and serious enough that it can unto itself produce armed confrontations – as simply part of BJP-induced election euphoria.
Some might have suggested that the Kartarpur initiative had a hidden strategic component and sought to signal Pakistani support to Sikh separatist ambitions. However, this seems unlikely given the apparent shunning by the government of pro-Pakistan UK-based Khalistan activists who sought to hold peaceful rallies in Pakistan for their cause in April. In keeping with Imran Khan’s prior acquiescence of the weak, yet hostile, Kabul regime’s demands in declining to meet the Afghan Taliban upon the latter’s request, it seemed the chain of post-Kartarpur futile peace gestures toward hostile states was still in implementation.
One might explain away the initiative as having been a calculated move intended to act as a crescendo of Pakistani generosity and cause the stark contrast between it and India’s hostility to sway the ‘international community’. Stipulating what, practically, this would further achieve however becomes a more difficult task. Regardless of the praise generated for Pakistan during the February-March escalation itself, no country singled out India for its undeniable role in starting the whole affair and thus the Kartarpur initiative had evidently not achieved for Pakistan any tangible support from the ‘international community’.
India’s rising Hindutva-based hostility toward Pakistan, which produced the escalation, is not a new phenomenon, either, as any look into the domestic trail of religiously-motivated anti-Muslim policies and pogroms led by the RSS-BJP since the 1960s will reveal.
To thus miss both the progression of the region’s most profoundly anti-Pakistan school of thought as well as misread the absolute and currently crystal-clear zenith of Hindutva hostility represents a severe shortcoming of the Pakistani leadership. The Kartarpur initiative achieved naught, and the timing of its proposal within both the context of immediate circumstances prevailing between India and Pakistan as well as the broader scope of Indo-Pak history stood out as awkward and misplaced.
The author is a Research Analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan, as well as an editorial contributor to the websites Eurasia Future and Regional Rapport. His writings have a particular focus on Middle Eastern affairs and history and Pakistan’s foreign policy. He can be reached at @AghaHussainReal
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