Quick Take

Can Kartarpur corridor ease tensions between India and Pak?

| Updated on November 12, 2019 Published on November 12, 2019

A picture of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur also called Kartarpur Sahib posted by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on his twitter account   -  PTI

With India-Pakistan ties, nothing can ever be said. But any diversion from the air of mistrust is to be welcomed

Physically, it could be said that the gap between Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan narrowed on Saturday. They were slightly over 4 km apart at either end of the Kartarpur Corridor. Their language too was distinctly emollient, especially from Modi who unreservedly thanked Imran saying: “He understood India’s feelings on the Kartarpur Corridor issue, gave respect and, keeping in view those feelings, worked accordingly.” Modi even thanked the Pakistani workers who had built the corridor in double-quick time. Imran, on the other side of the corridor, did bring up Kashmir, but added effusively that, “Today we are not only opening the border, but also our hearts to the Sikh community.”

The signals were intriguing and the question in the air is whether this first gesture could be the start of a long-awaited easing of tensions – rapprochement might be too strong a word -- between India and Pakistan. Certainly, Imran Khan has been amassing all the PR brownie points in recent months by talking about his desire for peace and how India was stonewalling all his overtures. His moves were making India and Modi look distinctly churlish. Also, ever since the Pulwama-Balakot standoff it’s extremely likely that international pressure has been mounting on India to talk to Pakistan – and President Donald Trump has, of course, offered to mediate. Significantly, on the Indian side, the corridor’s foundation stone was laid on November 26 last year, the anniversary of the 26/11 attack. Could that have been a diplomatic oversight or was it a subtle signal that India was ready to put the attack behind it? Also, Manmohan Singh and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh were amongst the first batch of 560 pilgrims who travelled the 4 km from Dera Baba Saheb in Gurdaspur to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. Manmohan is unlikely to have been there if he hadn’t received a green signal from the government.

Modi must always be given credit for making the politically risky trip to Lahore to meet Nawaz Sharif in 2015. But it seems he had omitted to get the Pakistan Army on board and that had almost instant repercussions. This time round Pakistan Army chief Qamar Bajwa made his presence felt at the Kartarpur foundation stone laying last year and his hug with cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu went viral. Still, it must be said, there are fears that the entire army may not be on board. There’s even speculation that several generals are unhappy that Bajwa has received an extension and that they’ve given behind-the-scenes support to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s massive Islamabad sit-in. Fazlur Rehman has also criticised Imran’s announcement that Sikhs would be allowed to enter without passports which was quickly vetoed by the army. When it comes to India-Pakistan relations it’s unwise to put big bets on the table one way or another. But the chances that we could be moving towards peace manoeuvres are better than they’ve been for a long time.

Published on November 12, 2019
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