Khan’s call for talks disingenuous

Khan’s call for talks disingenuous

Kartarpur: A view of the shrine of Sikh leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_28_2018_000232B)

The commencement of construction of a four–kilometre long ‘visa-free’ corridor linking the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara in Indian Punjab with the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab is a welcome initiative. Such a corridor has been a long-standing request of Sikh pilgrims. That it took Pakistan over two decades to start work on it speaks volumes of the state of ties between the two countries. Sufis, Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs in India and Pakistan yearn to visit their places of worship on the other side of the border. The Kartarpur Corridor could well be a first step in making their aspirations a reality. India and Pakistan should establish more such corridors. Faith-based initiatives have worked well as confidence building measures (CBMs) among divided communities in many parts of the world. Whether the Kartarpur Corridor will be an effective CBM between India and Pakistan remains to be seen. At best, it will provide Sikh pilgrims on both sides some satisfaction. That is good.

However, it may not go beyond that to repair India-Pakistan relations. It is therefore a limited initiative that could not contribute even to improved atmospherics. This is because of the intensely provocative gestures on the part of Pakistan that were on display during the November 28 event at Kartarpur. Gopal Singh Chawla, a Pakistan-based pro-Khalistan activist, known to be in touch with Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed, was seen not only strutting around at the event but also shaking hands with the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Bajwa. Chawla figures in the list of suspects being investigated for their role in the recent grenade attack on the Nirankari Bhawan near Amritsar that claimed three lives. Also, Indian High Commission officials were prevented from entering a gurdwara in Lahore recently. Pakistan’s support to Khalistanis is widely known and well-documented. By brazenly flaunting Khalistanis at an official event, Pakistan has signalled yet again that it remains a sponsor of terrorists.

Chances of India and Pakistan returning to talks at this juncture are bleak, given that India goes to vote in general elections in a few months. But Pakistan is burying any possibility of an improvement in bilateral relations with its offensive conduct. The masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, including Hafiz Saeed, continue to roam free in Pakistan. Bringing them to justice remains the minimum marker for the Imran Khan government’s sincerity towards normalisation of relations with India. At Kartarpur, Pakistan thumbed its nose at India by parading Khalistanis. Khan’s call for dialogue with India is, therefore, disingenuous. Conciliatory rhetoric cannot mask his government’s aggressive intentions and actions vis-à-vis India.

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