Indeed, India handed over Pakistan a diplomatic victory by sending two cabinet ministers for the ground laying ceremony. Pakistan rightly used this occasion to publicise this issue in portraying itself as peace mongering nation. With right PR and objectively choosing the propagandists/Pakistani leaning journalists from Indian media, Islamabad diligently enhanced the global visibility of the event. Taking cues from India’s tacit approval as a green signal for dialogue, Pakistan foreign office announced that it would invite India for SAARC summit at Islamabad. SAARC summit of Islamabad 2016 was stalled after India refused to participate after Pakistani trained terrorists attacked Indian military base at Uri killing 18 security personnel. Soon, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka backed down. The meet stood cancelled.
Following reports of Pakistani invitation for SAARC, India called bluff of Islamabad’s posturing and PR stating, “India is not a special invitee that Pakistan has the discretion to invite us. India is integral to SAARC”. Sushma Swaraj clarified, “For many years the Indian government has been asking for Kartarpur corridor, only now Pakistan responded positively. It doesn’t mean the bilateral dialogue will start because of this, terror and talks can’t go together. The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, dialogue can start. But the dialogue is not connected with only Kartarpur corridor”.
At the ground-breaking ceremony in Pakistan on November 28th, Congress leader Sidhu who went on a personal capacity hogged the limelight for his effortless ease in praising the Pakistani leadership. He went overboard saying, “there are tremendous possibilities in this corridor, only a political will was required which has been shown by an angel (Imran Khan) across the border and as well as government here”. Back in India, Congress missed no opportunity in complimenting Sidhu for his pioneering efforts in making the Kartarpur corridor proposal a reality. Known for his eccentricities, in a public meeting at the ceremony, Sidhu made deliberate references to Rafale deal. Soon, Imran Khan used this occasion to rake up Kashmir issue. Irresponsible, immature and irrelevant remarks of Khan attested his stature of puppet of Pakistan military.
Later MEA issued a statement objecting Khan’s reference to Kashmir “It is deeply regrettable that the Prime Minister of Pakistan chose to politicise the pious occasion meant to realise the long pending demand of the Sikh community to develop Kartarpur corridor by making unwarranted reference to Jammu and Kashmir which is an integral and inalienable part of India”. With these unwarranted references, Khan has unwittingly unravelled the nefarious intentions of Pakistan in accepting India’s request for opening Kartarpur Sahib shrine for Sikh pilgrims. By ridiculing India and Prime Minister Modi, Khan has made a spectacle out of the issue which is supposed to foster good will and friendship between both nations.
The presence of Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa at the ground laying ceremony underlined the centrality of military’s role in the entire game plan. Khalistani leader in Pakistan, Gopal Chawla, a close aid of Hafiz Saeed mastermind of 26/11 attended the event and posed with Sidhu. Sidhu’s unusual bonhomie and servility in Pakistan sparked a massive outrage. Following intense backlash from media, Congress which has earlier backed Sidhu eventually distanced from his comments. Coming under intense fire, Sidhu in an interview claimed that Congress high command, Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel have arranged a special flight for him to Pakistan. Connecting these dots, it is now amply clear at the behest of Congress party, Sidhu has been throwing barbs at Modi and even raked Rafale issue.
In 2015 Mani Shankar Aiyar on his visit to Pakistan at a panel discussion in Pakistani Channel responding to a question on impasse between both countries said, “The first and foremost thing is to remove Modi. Only then talks can move forward. We have to wait for four more years. They (panellists) are all optimist and that they can move forward when Modi Sahab is there, but I don’t think so”. Aiyar’s remarks and efforts to seek support from Pakistan to remove Modi created a furore. Though Congress dismissed the issue, the event left a trail of doubt. Since September Pakistan has been backing Rahul Gandhi for the prime ministerial post of India openly on twitter. A month of this campaign, BJP IT cell alleged that Congress parties has launched a “Desh Bachao and Modi hatao” facebook ads campaign in Pakistan and soliciting Pakistan’s support. Now Sidhu’s open admission suffice to say that Congress is seeking help of Pakistani establishment to topple Modi government. Congress party’s brazen politicking with enemy state known for its anti-India agenda casts serious doubts on its credentials and commitment towards nation’s interests. Before Congress’s intention be given a benefit of doubt, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s boastful statement “Imran Khan’s googly has forced the Indian government to send its ministers across the border” at Khan’s 100-day celebration into power surmises that Kartarpur corridor was a bait.
In 2010, Chairman of the Pakistan Evacuee Trust Property Board Chairman, Sayed Asif Hashmi offered to complete all modalities for construction of Kartarpur corridor but the Congress party which is in power didn’t respond. Even in May 2017, the parliamentary committee on external affairs ruled out any agreement on Kartarpur. But undeniably, this time around Pakistani leadership and military threw entire weight around the Kartarpur issue since engagement with India has become a “requirement”. They created buzz in the media with trusted emissaries and loyal propaganda machinery. India blissfully unaware of Pakistan’s treacherous plot had bit the bullet.
Pakistan is a habitual offender and India must be extremely cautious in handling this entire issue. People to people interaction and exchange is going on for several years through the Lahore bus services and special permits to PoK. With opening of Kartarpur corridor Punjab will be perilously close to becoming a strategically vulnerable region. Pakistan’s posturing and real intentions are crystal clear. By allowing visa-free access of Indian citizens to Kartarpur Gurudwara, Pakistan is eyeing the possibility of resumption of comprehensive bilateral dialogue with India and burnish its image as a “responsible country”.
The proposal for construction and developing Kartarpur corridor is truly an event of celebration given it religious significance to Sikh community and the landmark decision must be hailed. But Pakistan which is known for its vicious hatred towards India is leveraging this emotive issue to signal dawn of “thaw in relations” to global community. For decades, ISI has been supporting, funding and assisting the Khalistani movement to wean Sikh community from India. While the phenomenal sacrifices of Sikhs and their valiant contributions towards India’s development, progress and nation building remain unparalleled, Pakistan is trying to stoke secessionist tendencies. Indeed, Pakistan makes no bones about its intention of reviving Sikh militancy. ISI which manages the Sikh shrines is innocuously turning these places into active grounds for Khalistani propaganda.
Modi government’s is facing ire of strategists for sacrificing the strategic security in lieu of electoral gains. Pakistan for all its grand standing of rapprochement with India through religious diplomacy high on perception, is exceedingly short of action. There is not even a shred of evidence to show any change in its policy towards India. It continues to be a safe haven of terror elements. It hasn’t abandoned proxy war, the intrinsic component of its strategic doctrine. On the 10th anniversary of 26/11 Pakistan proudly announced its role in bloody massacre. Govt officials shared stage with terrorists. Pakistan hasn’t brought terror masterminds to justice. There is no evidence of any change in Pakistan’s discourse towards India to bring about transformation in its relations. Essentially it turns out that Kartarpur corridor is yet another contraption in the treacherous plan of bleeding India by thousand cuts. After reckless unleashing of its strategic assets, militant outfits, Pakistan is now resorting to this seemingly innocuous religious diplomacy. Husain Haqqani former Pakistani ambassador to US postulated that ideological pillars of Pakistan are Islamism and anti-Indianism. While the ‘liberal brigade’ might continue to expound the potential of religious diplomacy pragmatism dictates caution.
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