Kartarpur: Traversing The Corridors Of Power
The Kartarpur Corridor certainly is a triumph for tolerance and religious freedom, but it is also a triumph in diplomacy on the part of both nations, writes UT Jamil.
In February 1999, the establishment of the Kartarpur Corridor was proposed by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif as a step towards peace in the region. One would wonder what would have happened if it if that very May, Pakistani soldiers disguised as Kashmiri militants/freedom fighters didn’t’ attempt to take/retake Kargil from the Indians.
By October of the same year, Nawaz Sharif was removed via a coup by the very General Pervez Musharraf who had masterminded the Kargil fiasco earlier that year, and the rest is history.
On the 9th of November, Prime Minister Imran Khan fulfilled the dreams of millions of Sikhs by finally making the Kartarpur Corridor a wonderful reality. However, while there is much for all of us to rejoice for the Sikh community, and the Pakistani government’s magnanimous gesture, let us also swallow the bitter pill and understand that this altruistic act is not without political opportunism and a strategic rationale.
So what changed? Why was Pakistan so eager to finally make something it had stalled for the past 20 years?
Ever since it became an integral part of the War on Terror (WoT) (like it did in the Cold War in Afghanistan), Pakistan has found itself on the losing side of it. Millions of dollars in aid and many lives later, the country has found itself at the mercy of terrorism and extremism that has chipped away at its socio-economic core.
In the past two decades, Pakistan has seen itself gradually become an increasingly poorly represented country. Though political agendas in Western nations may have dictated the narrative of the Pakistani as a poor, corrupt, and fundamentalist Muslim, the country itself did little to counter that image and was pigeonholed into a stereotypical caricature of a backward Muslim extremist – the Osama Bin Laden debacle only reinforced the cliché. Add to this the poor treatment of its religious minorities, and Pakistan has come to epitomize the intolerant Muslim platitude.
The country’s unfortunate social indicators that include an embarrassingly low literacy rate, poor treatment of women, and inability to eradicate polio only exacerbate this image. The Pakistani passport today ranks as one of the worst in the world.
Over the years, Pakistan’s problem with excessive corruption, the cost of fighting terrorism (while financing a few proxies of its own), and a pseudo-democratic set up, has left it dangling precariously at the edge of an economic meltdown. To make it worse, it now finds itself on the notorious ‘gray list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) due to its inability to prevent terror financing and money laundering. Already notorious for extremism, being on this list has not only worsened its image internationally, but has also thrown a wrench in the fluidity with which it can do business which is imperative to jumpstart its fledgling economy.
The Rise of India
Over the years, while Pakistan’s socio-economic decline was en route its tragic journey, India’s economy was moving in the opposite direction and in the past two decades it has risen to become a major global player that is now viewed by the West as an effective democratic counter to Communist China’s increasing international influence.
Today, the imbalance of power between India and Pakistan vastly favours the former simply because despite its myriad internal problems India has economically and technologically surpassed Pakistan to a point where Pakistan cannot directly spar with it without the protection, and authority, of their neighbor China. This is why India has become a brazen and belligerent bully to Pakistan simply because it can be one without expecting an equal response; the annexation of Kashmir is but one example of that.
The Kartarpur Corridor serves as an effective measure against all that ails Pakistan. To counter the PR travesty that is the image of Pakistan, it portrays a country commonly associated with Islamic extremism and terrorism as a tolerant nation that is respectful towards other faiths. This boost to Pakistan’s image will also bolster its reputation as a safe tourist spot just as the visits of the royal couple and a myriad international social media bloggers did. A thriving tourism industry will be a much-needed boon for the economy – in fact, the Kartarpur Corridor itself has the potential to generate an annual income of USD 36.5 million for Pakistan.
The Corridor is not only a bulwark to redeem Pakistan’s image internationally and recuperate the economy locally, but it is also a measure to oppose India’s increasing influence in the region. By allowing Indian pilgrims to enter Pakistan freely via the corridor, the country has made an overt gesture of peace to deter India from any acts of aggression lest it wants to tarnish its own international reputation. Similarly, the corridor is also an important platform upon which Pakistan can build a better relationship with the Sikhs of India.
Navjot Singh Sidhu has played a big part in the foundation of this relationship as Amarinder Singh, India’s Chief Minister of Punjab, recently claimed that the Pakistan Army had directly informed Sidhu about its dedicated intention to build the Kartarpur Corridor even before Imran Khan came to power. The strategic value of this relationship can link Pakistan with the Sikh separatist movement for ‘Khalistan’ which can be used to counter India’s own backing of Baloch separatists in Pakistan.
The dynamics of the two South Asian countries have become such that like an upstart, India, with all its strength and new-found power, is belligerently flexing its muscles knowing full well that Pakistan is economically too fragile to be able to respond in kind. However, this imbalance of power has also made Pakistan more creative in its methods of Realpolitik and its economic limitations are restricting it to overtures of peace and stability rather than its default modus operandi of military and paramilitary posturing.
The Kartarpur Corridor certainly is a triumph for tolerance and religious freedom, but it is also a triumph in diplomacy on the part of both nations (one must credit India for doing its part) as they navigate this new dynamic in the status quo of their relationship.