Indian leaders laid the groundbreaking stone for the Kartarpur road corridor in Gurdaspur, Indian Punjab on November 26. The Pakistani leaders did the same in Kartarpur; district Narowal, Pakistani Punjab on November 28. The Sikh community around the world is celebrating the ground breaking of this project. Their dream is going to become a reality after 71 years.
The Kartarpur corridor is a 4.5 km long route between the two countries. It will connect the Sikh holy shrine of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India to the shrine of Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. Pakistan will build the passage in its own part of the territory. This joint division of the project is a significant development if one looks at the history of the subcontinent. This marks the revival of contact between people of India and Pakistan.
This is perhaps the first time after Partition that both India and Pakistan are working together to complete one project: a corridor that connects both sides of the border and leads to the shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Sahib. Even though, this corridor has religious symbolism for Sikh community, but the potential was there to turn this religious symbolism into an opportunity to resume dialogue and normalisation of relationship between two nuclear armed neighbours.
Indian leadership has lost a big opportunity to make this historic occasion even more historic and memorable for the 1.5 billion people on the both sides of the border to ease the tension and to normalise the relations. But it seems that Indian leaders and Modi government has become hostage of Mumbai attack. This is one terror attack that India has still not come to terms with.
The Mumbai attack in 2008 damaged the relationship between India and Pakistan. However, the announcement of the opening of the Kartarpur project from both sides raised hopes of a new beginning in the relations between both countries and a new dawn. But unfortunately, the attitude and behaviour of the Indian leadership dashed these hopes. India refused to send its foreign minister to attend the groundbreaking ceremony on the invitation of Pakistani government. India not seems in the mood to normalise the relations and continue with its policy to blame Pakistan for everything bad that happens in India.
Pakistani leadership showed much more maturity and grace at the occasion. Prime Minister Imran Khan once again offered olive branch to India and showed willingness to resume compact dialogue and peace process. The presence of Army chief General Qamar Bajwa sends clear message that Pakistani government and the state institutions including military wants normal relations with India.
The presence of army chief negated the misconceived perception that Pakistani army is not letting the normalisation between the two countries. Pakistani government, parliament, political leadership and the most importantly the military is on one page and willing to bring peace, stability and prosperity to this region.
But on the contrary, Indian officials give discouraging statements and give the message to continue the hostility and tensions that exists between the two. But this is no surprise. Today in India, there is a hostile atmosphere which prevents one from talking about peace with Pakistan; this kind of opinion can put someone’s life in danger. Virtual and physical violence is unleashed against anyone talking about engagement with Pakistan and one could be lynched for such a ‘crime’.
A new breed of media has emerged in India in the last four years that promotes lynching and hatred. It is rabidly anti-peace, anti-talks and propagates violence. The political class that is ruling India complements such media, or perhaps they both complement each other. The ruling establishment has an open and unabashed anti-Muslim agenda, which does not believe in cementing the fault lines but widening it as far as possible to gain electoral dividends.
It’s time for proponents of peace on both sides of the border to reassert themselves. It’s time for the Indian intelligentsia to be more vocal about the need for engagement with Pakistan. It’s time to give the new prime minister of Pakistan a chance to prove his intention for peaceful dialogue.
India claimed itself as the largest democracy in the world. But this democracy is also gradually feeling the heat of majoritarian radicalisation with the advent of the hardline Hindu extreme right-wing. The language of hatred and the politics of divide and hatred that the ruling BJP and its hardline Hindu right-wing affiliates are propagating is creating a new breed of Indians who are more parochial, prejudiced, biased, violent and radicalised than the previous generations.
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17 November, 2019