In a surprise move, described a landmark decision, the government on November 22 announced opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. News says government will construct the Indian side of the corridor by August 2019 and hopes that Pakistan will do the same on its side. Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, final resting place of Guru Nank Dev, on the banks of Ravi River in Pakistan, is 120 km from Lahore and 3-4 km from the Indo-Pak border. Guru Nanak had spent 18 years of his life there.
The announcement came in wake of 3000 Sikh pilgrims from India having already reached Lahore on November 21 and proceeding to Gurudwara Janamesthan in Nankana Sahib to join in celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak falling on November 23 – Kartik Purnima.
The government decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to the international border. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the Kartarpur corridor will provide “smooth and easy access to pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Darabr Sahib throughout the year”. Pakistan’s foreign minister has welcomed the decision, calling it a victory of peace lobbies in both countries, hoping it encourages peace and tranquility.
It may be recalled that in August 2018, Punjab Congress Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had attended the oath taking ceremony of the Imran Khan government amidst the controversy of him hugging Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. On return Sidhu announced Bajwa had told him Pakistan was ready to open the Kartarpur Corridor for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nank Dev, which is not surprising because Pakistan’s foreign policy is coined and controlled by Bajwa, not Imran Khan. Subsequently, media reports of September 19 quoted Pakistan stating there was “no formal communication with India on opening Kartarpur Sahib corridor”.
Later, Pakistan Foreign office spokesperson Muhammad Faisl stated on October 4, that opening of the Kartarpur border crossing was linked to the start of a dialogue between India and Pakistan, and asserted that dialogue is the only way forward to resolve issues and disputes between the two countries. Faisal also said the Pakistan was pursuing the policy of peaceful neighbourhood – a statement sic to the core. No doubt there have been long-standing demands from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and political leaders to build a corridor astride the international border for pilgrims to cross over into Pakistan to visit the Kartarpur Sahib shrine but there is need to examine why Pakistan so proposed and why at this time.
The recent grenade attack at a religious congregation at Nirankari Bhawan in Adliwal village of Rajasansi area, lose to Amritsar on November 18 had killed three devotees and wounded 20. Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh has categorically stated it was a terrorist attack, and the grenade used was the same used by terrorists in J&K “made under license by Pakistani licensed factory”. The police said they were also investigating possible involvement of terrorists supporting Khalistan demand but the Chief Minister said, “The mastermind of the attack is Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan’s agenda is to disturb peace here”. He also said Pakistan has been habitually trying to stir up trouble in Punjab, the state next to the border.
At the same time, it is well known that Pakistan has been trying its best to revive the separatist movement in Punjab, flushing the state with narcotics past several years is part of the plan. The ISI backs the ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’ campaign. Demonstrators abroad have been displaying Pakistani flags and posters of Narendra Modi labeling him ‘terrorist’. ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’ campaign posters have been displayed at Pakistani guurdwaras during pilgrimage of Sikh jathas in the past. A group of Sri Lankan officers undergoing training in India few years back had revealed that during their previous visit to Pakistan they were briefed that Pakistan will succeed in reviving militancy in Punjab eventually. As per recent reports an Indian politician has allegedly been paid Rs 1300 cr to help revive militancy in Punjab. The public in Punjab may not want it but ISI obviously has its own plans.
Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ slogan is seen buried in his abject surrender to radicals in wake of the Asia Bibi episoder, taking off Hafiz Saeed-related terrorist organizations from banned list, and free hand to terrorist leaders for anti-India public meetings. Ceasefire violations, infiltration and ISI-sponsored killings and terror attacks in J&K are continuing. Pakistan’s anti-India psychological war is in full swing, exploiting all forms of communications. Under these circumstances, the suggestion to open the Kartarpur Corridor coming from Pakistani army chief Bajwa and Pakistani foreign office stressing that opening of this corridor is “linked” to opening of a India-Pakistan dialogue is highly suspicious; well thought strategy to advance Pakistani army’s nefarious designs taking advantage of religious sentiments of the Sikhs?
As for India, it is intriguing why the announcement could not be made before 3000 Indian Sikh devotees left for Lahore. Could temporary arrangement be made for this group of 3000 devotees cross-over and return from the area of the proposed corridor in conjunction Pakistan considering special significance of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev? Surely, organizing such temporary crossings was no herculean task if there was will to do so. Is the announcement of November 22 linked to forthcoming elections, or is it linked to slipping political fortune and forced dissolution of the J&K assembly with reports of PDP, NC and Congress ganging up, even as dissolving of J&K assembly is being portrayed as a great move by the Governor?
All said and done, national security must take precedence over everything else, politics included. With the Kartarpur Corridor in place, there will be a stream of devotees throughout the year, not occasional groups crossing into Pakistan. Individuals and smaller groups are more likely to be susceptible to ISI’s machinations. How to safeguard against this will remain a continuous challenge. Gurdaspur area has also been witness to ISI-backed terror attacks and narcotics smuggling, as well as infiltration. All these are not one-way ISI operations, even as we do not acknowledge that most of the handlers on the Indian side have protection of out ‘deep state’. There is, therefore, need for extreme caution.