- A discussion on the Kartarpur Corridor was organised by the Centre for Socio-Cultural Studies (CSCS), Punjab, on 01 November 2019, at the Union Territory Guest House in Chandigarh. The discussion was a follow-up of a similar brain storming session conducted by the Centre on 03, May, 2019 at the Sharda Sarvhitkari School, Sector 40 D, Chandigarh.
- The invitees were carefully selected from among prominent personalities in the domain of Defence Services, Police Services, Academicians, Journalists, Lawyers and members of Gurudwara Management. More than twenty personnel participated in the discussion, inclusive of CSCS members. Many had attended the discussion on 03 May, 2019 too.
- While welcoming the invitees, team CSCS highlighted the importance of the discussion. Voices against the project and intentions of the government were highlighted.
- Sadhavi Khosla, December, social activist and political analyst.
“So, what might be an act of the BJP and SAD to please the domestic Sikh audience could prove to be a disaster in the long run. The reason I have not mentioned the Congress here is because the Punjab chief minister unequivocally criticised Pakistan and took a principled stand by boycotting the Kartarpur opening ceremony….,” Sadhavi Khosla in December last year.
- Sushant Sareen. Member Observer Research Foundation
“The sheer obtuseness of the government to think things through and understand the minefield it was entering is quite astounding. This Corridor will become a bone that is stuck in India’s throat which it will neither be able to swallow, nor vomit out.” This comment was made a little after the project was approved by both countries
- It was highlighted by the moderator that nowhere in such comments can be seen even an iota of sensitivity for the sentiments of the Sikh community. The fallacy of the negative predictions ware also highlighted.
- Congress lost miserably in the rest of the country but won in Punjab
- BJP/SAD combine could not “please the domestic Sikh audience,” and yet the NDA Government lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained steadfast in their decision to open the Kartarpur Corridor
- The current situation in Pakistan was summarised as follows:-
- Despite Indo-Pakistan relations touching rock bottom, the Corridor remained on track since the country has its own axe to grind:-
- Win favour of the internationally affluent and politically powerful Sikh community
- Cover up its abysmal record in treatment of minority communities
- “The white colour in the Pakistani flag represents minorities and it is as dear to the government as the green is.” Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
- “If Sikhs are not safe in Pakistan and they are being tortured then why Pakistan is in favour of corridor?” Gopal Chawla
- Army Hawks unhappy with development
- Build on its narrative on Kashmir
- The proclivity of Pakistan taking a U-turn on the initiative also cannot be set aside completely
- It was proposed to hold the discussion in an open format with all participants eliciting their views freely. The overall framework was identified as follows:-
- How much can Pakistan influence governments by leveraging Sikh power?
- Can Pakistan successfully project itself as a moderate state as it is trying?
- Could Pak possibly close the Corridor for diplomatic brinkmanship?
- What would happen if Drone attacks become more prominent?
- How will the Hawks in Pakistan react and what counters are there?
- Effect on Border Areas and Drug proliferation?
- What all will Pakistan do to leverage the Sikh community?
- Way ahead for India to gain maximum advantage
- Can the corridor act as a catalyst to link the two countries?
- There was unanimous agreement that timely completion of the project was a matter of great joy and for this the perseverance and maturity shown by the Government of India was worthy of the highest appreciation.
- It was highlighted that along with the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji is revered equally by other communities and in particular the Punjabi community. The development, therefore, needs to be looked upon as a” Bharatiya” sentiment and opening of the pilgrimage to all disciples of the Guru needs to be appreciated. The universal appeal of Guru Nanak Dev Ji should be given due respect and his message of human equality in the eyes of God should be carried letter and spirit.
- The need to understand the actual thought process of Pakistan, the “Deeper Agenda” was highlighted.
(a) It was suggested that the manner in which the initiative has played out points towards a very sophisticated Public Relations (PR) exercise by Pakistan. Why did Gen Bajwa speak with Navjot Sidhu? Why initiative was not discussed PM to PM as is the norm? It created a circumstance where India was left with no option but to agree to the project. Pakistan has, therefore, gained the desired goodwill in many of its targeted international domains.
(b) The international Sikh community is responding with great enthusiasm. There are Sikh Expats like Peter Virdee who have promised funds to the tune of 500 million pounds to Pakistan. Such money has not been forthcoming to address the chronic problems being faced by Punjab today. There can be no two thoughts about Pakistan wooing the affluent international Sikh community for both financial and diplomatic support in times to come.
(c) The agenda has an economic signature but economics is not the all encompassing factor. It is more deep rooted.
- Certain reasons for not being unduly worried about the security threat posed by the Corridor were highlighted.
(a) Kartarpur enclave would not pose much military threat to India since all information of terrain etc was already available through modern technology.
(b) The Government of India took four months to respond to the offer for the initiative made through Congress leader Navjot Sidhu. Within this time the military aspects and overall security scenario would have been adequately brainstormed and a “Go-ahead” found to be feasible.
(d) It was held forth that the rushed nature of the pilgrimage will leave no window of opportunity for the ISI or other agencies to forward the agenda of Propaganda.
(e) It was also said that there has been no incident of arms and narcotics smuggling since the time when Sikh pilgrimage to Pakistan was allowed; this initiative does not offer a window at all.
- Notwithstanding the foregoing optimism about the Kartarpur Corridor not giving any window of opportunity to Pakistan to ferment trouble the discussants, especially the security experts, held forth strongly that Pakistan’s ISI being an expert in Propaganda warfare will remain active; it has its own way of doing things and will definitely try out indigenous methods to gain advantage. It is s bound to devise ways and means to leverage the initiative to its favour. There is a need to stay alert in this regard.
- Certain apprehensions were expressed with regard to the future course of action by the Pakistani deep state:-
(a) Apprehension was expressed about the fluid political situation in Pakistan and its possible impact on the initiative.
(b) It should never be forgotten that Pakistan has a capability of changing its stand at the drop of a hat.
(c) With Sikh population in Pakistan reduced to a miniscule 8000. Complete ISI control cannot be precluded
(d) There is no let up in the radicalised content of Pakistani thought process especially in the leadership levels
- In view of the foregoing, a high state of vigilance and alertness on the part of the government to meet evolving political, security and diplomatic challenges was recommended.
- It was suggested that the impact of the initiative should also be considered beyond the “initial euphoria” that it has generated:-
(a) Sikhs are already going to Pakistan for pilgrimage/visit on a number of occasions. With time the Kartarpur Sahib pilgrimage will also fall into the same loop.
(b) The Sikh sentiment is well aligned to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib and Gurdwara Panja Sahib; Pakistan could have worked out a modality to this end too but has not done so
(c) Pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib should not be seen to be different from pilgrimages to other holy Gurdwaras of the Sikhs like the five Takhts.
- The opening of the corridor, as such, should not divert attention from the crisis that Punjab is facing in economic and social terms. Sikh youth is opting for mass immigration since economic opportunities are limited in Punjab. Drug proliferation from Pakistan remains a live and critical issue.
- The 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji should have been an occasion to reiterate his enlightened teachings rather than the prevalent showmanship of opening of the corridor. The matter should have been kept confined to its own perspective rather than dominating the momentous occasion as it has.
- India will need to work hard towards ensuring that the Kashmir issue remains isolated from Kartarpur Corridor initiative. This poses its own set of challenges since there were reports of the Kashmir terrorist, Zakir Musa, being in Punjab when the process of the corridor was being worked out. Presently too, Pakistan is attempting to use the territory of Punjab for gun-running in Kashmir through the use of Drones. These are aspects to be careful about.
- In order to prepare for any possibility of spread of propaganda from the Pakistan side, however, limited it would be, the need to educate the pilgrims about certain Do’s and Don’ts before they embark on the pilgrimage was highlighted as was the need to carry to selective debriefing on their return
- On the issue of the possible impact of the initiative on Indo-Pakistan relations the following was held forth:-
(a) The initiative may open avenues to bring a thaw in the relationship between the two countries, especially resumption of trade without which Punjab is suffering a great loss as it Pakistan as a whole.
(d) It was argued that chronic distrust should be avoided and some positivity in the action taken by Pakistan should be identified and appreciated.
- The Government of India, however, is unlikely to budge from its righteous position of not opening dialogue with Pakistan till the latter country does not rein in terrorist activity emanating from its soil.
- Studies and reports on the Kartarpur Corridor will need to cover all parameters, social, economic, military, religious, and diplomatic among others.
Summary and Conclusion
- In conclusion the main factors are summarised in point form as given below:-
(a) The completion of the Kartarpur Corridor and its opening is welcomed.
(b) Those who doubted the honest intentions of the government stand exposed
(c) The universality of teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the “Bharatiya” dimension of the celebrations should remain in focus.
(d) The Guru has a following in all communities and this factor should be respected.
(e) The proposal has been assiduously engineered by Pakistan has put India on the diplomatic back foot. Due vigilance is necessary
(f) Pakistani propaganda directed towards the Sikh community within India and International needs to be identified, exposed and countered. ISI machination, in particular, will need to be closely watched.
(g) The corridor should not draw attention away from the pressing economic and social problems that Punjab is facing, especially drug proliferation from Pakistan
(h) Attention needs to be focussed more on the enlightened teachings of the Guru rather than the “newsy” politics of the Kartarpur Corridor.
(I) The initiative is unlikely to impact Indo-Pakistan relations till such time that terror activity is not curbed by the latter state
- The government needs to progress on the project with utmost sensitivity while keeping the interests of the Nations and the sentiments of the people in mind.