The opening of Kartarpur corridor is more than an event as both sides need to consistently work for peacebuilding through such soft politics initiatives as CBM’s to carve mechanism for a comprehensive dialogue to resolve hard politics issues including disputed perspectives on border disputes and cross-border terrorism.
Pakistan is scheduled to host 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak at Kartarpur by receiving an influx of Sikh pilgrims from across the globe in April 2019. Guru Nanak was the first Sikh guru and founder of Sikh faith. It is an opportunity for Pakistan to reflect its commitment to inter-faith harmony and dialogue among civilizations by giving a welcome gesture to the global Sikh community particularly Sikh’s in India as an opportunity to visit this religious place. Pakistan has offered India border free corridor for a crossing of Sikh pilgrims from India into Pakistan to visit Kartarpur.  India-Pakistan Kartarpur Corridor is a right gesture in the right direction.
Kartarpur is a bordering area of Pakistan with India in central Punjab district of Narowal, Pakistan. Due to this close geographic proximity with India, the opening of visa-free Kartarpur corridor for border crossing of Sikh pilgrims between Pakistan and India is a significant development for Sikh community in India and Indian Sikh diaspora across the globe.
India constitutes 85% of the total Sikh community living worldwide. Therefore, this peace initiative can play a constructive role in creating a conducive environment between Pakistan and India for cooperation in the realm of soft politics and comprehensive dialogue. Consistency and political will to execute this initiative on both sides is mandatory prerequisite to materialize it into a living reality.
Prime minister Imran Khan has inaugurated construction on Kartarpur corridor on 28th November while India has also laid the foundation of the corridor on its own side of the border for construction of the road to the Pakistan border. This news arrested media attention after the revelation of a landmark decision by Premier Modi’s cabinet about accepting Pakistan’s offer for a joint corridor on Kartarpur border.
In November, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh apprised the nation in a tweet that “In a landmark decision, the Cabinet approves building and development of Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to International Border. Kartarpur corridor project with all modern amenities and facilities to be implemented with Central Government funding.” This news was welcomed by Pakistan government and foreign minister of Pakistan shared details of Pakistan’s reciprocity and groundbreaking ceremony on Pakistan’s side in this regard.
Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed in a tweet that “Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. PM Imran Khan will do break ground at Kartarpura facilities on 28th November. We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion.” This confirmation from Pakistan was a music to the ears of millions of Sikh believers living in India. This confidence building measure (CBM) can bring a thaw to freeze Pakistan India relations. This peace initiative was first taken by Pakistan on the demand of the Indian Sikh community.
Earlier, Pakistan’s army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa hugged Navjot Singh Sidhu (an Indian Politician) as the guest during oath-taking ceremony of Premier Imran Khan in August 2018 and offered Pakistan’s peace initiative of opening Kartarpur border with India. This initiative of Pakistan received criticism from Indian media hawks as Pakistan army’s “emotional blackmailing tactic” for Sikh community in India. BJP’s many leaders also opposed it but the Sikh community in India pressurized Indian government which has now decided to open this corridor with Pakistan.
This initiative has pleased Sikh community in Pakistan, India and across the globe. Many diplomatic experts call it game changer initiative between Pakistan and India which can be an exaggeration of reality. Because India and Pakistan have to navigate through unresolved and difficult dispute of Kashmir as the main stumbling block in bilateral relations. Resolution of Kashmir dispute as per UN resolutions is the key to durable regional peace.
However, Opening of Kartarpur corridor is more than an event. But both sides need to consistently work for peacebuilding through such soft politics initiatives as CBM’s to carve mechanism for a comprehensive dialogue to resolve hard politics issues including disputed perspectives on border disputes and cross-border terrorism. The opening of Kartarpur border will enhance People to people contact but issues between the two countries cannot be resolved overnight. Role of the policy-making elite on both sides is crucial in this regard especially their security establishments.
Pakistan’s civil-military leadership is on the same page concerning opening Kartarpur corridor and having the dialogue with India which is a positive development for Pakistan. Premier Imran Khan has also expressed his determination for dialogue with India for the sake of regional peace in his maiden speech after becoming elected leader of Pakistan.
Indian political elite may have the will to continue this Sikh pilgrim border crossing corridor with Pakistan but the real challenge to this peace initiative comes from the potential role of Indian security policymaking elite especially armed forces of India. Their ambiguity casts doubt on the smooth execution of this project as bilateral peace diplomacy example especially in the presence of controversial statements from incumbent Indian army chief. Building comprehensive policy-making elite consensus in India on Kartarpur corridor is essential to materialize this initiative.
Though, many see the opening of Kartarpur corridor as a corridor of hope for peace between the two countries and infinite possibilities. Softening borders between Eastern and Western Punjab region of Indian and Pakistan can boost up people to people contact, mutual trade, cultural exchange and economic development on both sides as CBM to mitigate effects of mutually shared animosity grounded in the historical process of their inter-state relations.
Pakistan needs to establish a master plan for hosting the event by organizing venues for trade, religious tourism and regulation of Sikh pilgrims in Kartarpur region. Security sensitivities of this bordering region with India cannot be overlooked. Therefore, security compliance and effective border management mechanism must be devised with the consent of Indian authorities to meet these requirements. Pakistan-India Kartarpur corridor is a beginning into the realm of soft politics between two countries to warm the freeze ties.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Muhammad Ayaz Nazar is an independent researcher having M. Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University. His areas of Interest are included geopolitics, politics of South Asia, especially focusing on India-Pakistan relations.