Beyond Kartarpur Corridor

Religious sentiments continue to play havoc in the sub-continent. For one thing 'Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature...' No doubt people in Punjab seem to be heaving a sigh of relief, rather an audiable sigh of relief over the 'Kartarpur Corridor'. But euphoria over 'Kartarpur Corridor' is likely to subside soon. What Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said after laying foundation stone for the historic 'Kartarpur Corridor' linking two renowned Gurdwaras on both sides of the fence was not taken seriously by the persons in power in New Delhi. Irman Khan's assertion that his government, the army and all political parties in Pakistan were on the same page to improve 'civilised ties' with India had no takers in the Indian administration. The Sikh pilgrims may derive some comfort from Mr Khan's assurance that facilities at Kartarpur Sahib will be far better for 550th birth anniversary celebrations for Guru Nanak Dev next year. At the same time India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj dismissed any idea of constructive engagement with Pakistan, not to speak of 'civilised ties', because of Pakistan's undeclared proxy war through terror outfits. While appreciating Pakistan's positive response to the 'Kartarpur Corridor' Ms Swaraj lost no time to attach little importance to Gurdwara diplomacy. She said in no uncertain terms that 'bilateral ties will not start on this'. A few days earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi went a step further to belittle Pakistan's overtures to 'Kartarpur Corridor' as he would say 'even Berlin Wall fell'.

But "Berlin Wall" cannot be equated with India-Pakistan border which was drawn over the dead bodies of hundreds of thousands of poor souls. "Terror and Talks" cannot go together. That was precisely the message India sent to Pakistan, a day after Islamabad said it would invite Prime Minister Modi to the coming SAARC summit to be hosted by Pakistan. India's 'No' to SAARC meeting means it is back to square one, 'Kartarpur' or no 'Kartarpur'. India pulled out of the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad after the deadly terrorist attack on an Indian army camp in Uri and the stalemate has been continuing since then.

SAARC being the weakest regional grouping will never succeed unless India and Pakistan normalise their relations and show eagerness to become pragmatic enough on the Kashmir issue. 'If two Punjabs have a corridor, why not two Kashmirs' seems to be a legitimate question raised by some concerned people in Kashmir. What governments have failed can be achieved through people's initiatives and cultural exchanges. But India and Pakistan are averse to the idea of people's initiatives in improving bilateral relations.

Imran Khan's observation that if France and Germany who fought many wars can live in peace and prosper, it is quite possible for India and Pakistan to mend fences. He is optimistic that even the Kashmir tangle can be resolved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders with strength and will of leadership of two countries. But the India-Pakistan equation is not that simple, it defies logic because of bitter legacy left by history. They have no normal trade relations. Nor do they try to improve it. Once one of India's ex-prime ministers, I K Gujral said, somewhat jokingly, that Pakistani officials were driving cars with tyres 'made in India' without knowing it. Even in the absence of normal export-import business clandestine operations through smuggling played the trick. Abnormal trade relations cannot improve normal bilateral ties. That nobody can win a nuclear war is a fact beyond dispute. Both India and Pakistan have atomic weapons, they are nuclear armed. Maybe this reality has tempted Pakistan to indulge in low-cost unofficial armed confrontation through insurgency, to destablise polity in Kashmir and even in Punjab where people look euphoric over the Kartarpur development.

France and Germany fought many wars but they can talk business without any prejudice. It is not really the caseĀ  with India and Pakistan. They fought many wars but they cannot get rid of war psychosis even after so many years. Because of stand off between India and Pakistan the fate of SAARC hangs in the balance. As a result India's small neighbours suffer. For a Bangladeshi citizen, it is difficult to subscribe to an Indian journal through usual banking channel and yet they think SAARC will one day become more like a South Asian version of European Union.

Pakistan's soft stance towards India at this juncture is not without reason. Getting isolated more and more in the international community, it is quite logical for Pakistan to adopt conciliatory approach to wipe out its terror tag. Despite so many road-blocks in making a thaw in Indo-Pakistan relationship, accommodation shown by the new ruling dispensation in Islamabad in opening the Kartarpur Corridor, cannot be dismissed as nothing. It's utopia to think of radical transformation in the age-old mistrust and hostile behaviour in one go. Then something is always better than nothing.

That Kashmir is the core issue of contention cannot be denied. That both sides want to resolve the vexed question of Kashmir without involving Kashmiris is also a hard fact. It's theĀ  demand of right to self-determination of Kashmiri people which both India and Pakistan refuse to concede.

There are agencies in Pakistan that have vested interests in projecting India as the permanent enemy of Pakistani people. It remains to be seen how they react after Imran Khan's olive branch to Indian leaders.

Religion unites people but it also divides. After all "Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself...".

Vol. 51, No.23, Dec 9 - 15, 2018