India must tread cautiously as Pakistan is back to its old tricks
Is the Kartarpur corridor construction going to be another headache for India in dealing with Pakistan? Kartarpur corridor is a long-standing dream of the Sikh Community to visit the Gurdwara in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev spent the last days of his life. Even after the Pulwama terrorist attack on Feb 14, India had a joint meet with Pakistan on the construction of the corridor and Pakistan side played all tricks to spook the work of the corridor. The question now is if it is the right time to have talks with Pakistan on this issue. Pakistan’s behavior and U-Turns suggest it is not.
There is a sea of difference between what Pakistan, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, had announced, and in what they offered at Attari meeting.
On March 15, many Indian officials say that Pakistan has “surreptitiously usurped” lands belonging to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in the name of developing a corridor for the convenience of pilgrims and objected to most of the Indian proposals for the project, reflecting its “double-speak”.
The Indian delegation, which attended the first India-Pakistan meeting on Thursday to finalise the modalities for the proposed corridor linking Gurdaspur in Punjab with the Sikh shrine in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, strongly protested against the “rampant encroachment” on the lands belonging to the holy Sikh shrine in utter disregard to the sentiments of devotees of Guru Nanak Dev in India.
“Pakistan has lived up to its old reputation of making false promises, making tall claims and delivering nothing. Its double-speak on the Kartarpur Sahib corridor has been exposed in the first meeting itself at Attari on Thursday,” a government official, who attended the meeting, said. The encroached lands were donated to the Kartarpur Sahib by devotees like the late Maharaja Ranjit Singh and others.
“Lands owned by the Gurdwara have been surreptitiously usurped by the government of Pakistan in the name of developing the corridor. A strident demand was made by India for the restoration of these lands to the holy Gurdwara urgently, keeping in view the strong sentiments on the issue within India,” the official said.
Pakistan wanted to restrict the duration of Kartarpur agreement to just two years, despite India making it clear that it is executing long-lasting and comprehensive facilities at the border by spending Rs 190 crores. While India has made serious efforts to fulfill the long-standing aspiration of the Indian pilgrims and devotees of Guru Nanak Dev for smooth, easy and hassle-free access of pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan has scuttled the proposals made by New Delhi.
“Against the hype created by the Pakistan government and the Pakistan media, its actual offer during the talks turned out to be farcical and mere tokenism. There is a sea of difference between what Pakistan, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, had announced, and in what they offered at Attari meeting. Clearly, Pakistan is not interested in providing Indian pilgrims easy access to Kartarpur Sahib,” the official said.
While India is executing a state-of-the-art passenger terminal building for visit of over 5,000 pilgrims daily and over 15,000 pilgrims on special occasions like Vaisakhi (falls in mid-April), Pakistan has limited it to a mere 700 pilgrims per day. Pakistan did not agree to the Indian demand of allowing daily visits of pilgrims and has restricted it to “visiting days” which will be specified by it. It did not agree to permit travel of devotees on foot or as individuals and has insisted on the movement of groups of 15 and by vehicle, another official said.
Despite having assured visa-free passage to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan has now brought in, through the back door, the requirement of issuance of special permits by them to pilgrims, that also at a fee, which is “outrageous and defeats” the very purpose of the corridor, the official said.
Pakistan has restricted the corridor facility to only Indian Passport holders to the exclusion of a large number of Overseas Citizens of India card holder devotees. Pakistan is pretending to be blind to the fact that Guru Nanak Dev holds universal appeal, including the large Indian diaspora, the official said. India hopes that the special border crossing for pilgrims will open before Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary in November 2019.
The above-mentioned developments clearly show that Pakistan and its controller the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is throwing tantrums to ignite the feelings of Sikhs with the help of anti-India Khalistan forces. It is high time that the Government of India monitor and analyze the developments and not fall into the traps laid by the scheming Pakistan administration.