Ever since parting ways in 1947, Pakistan and India have largely remained hostile to each other. Although the government of the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf brought about improvement in their bilateral relations, the romanticism of peace was short-lived. Despite Kashmir being a constant point of conflict between the two countries, somehow both India and Pakistan have now managed to let sanity prevail.
The year 2019 started with the Pulwama Attack in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, pushing the bilateral relations between the two neighbors at the lowest ebb ever since 1999. Both countries had been blaming each other of border violations and warmongering.
The Kartarpur Initiative
Amidst the rising hostility, Pakistan has opened a corridor for India’s Sikh pilgrims at Kartarpur in the country’s Punjab province. The corridor is meant to connect the Dera Nanak Sahib Gurdwara in India with the Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. Visa-free access has been granted to India’s Sikh pilgrims to perform their religious rites.
Sikhs in India had been demanding access to Kartarpur since 1947. For the first time now, the proposal was pushed by Pakistan despite resistance from India. On November 9, 2019, PM Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur corridor which was viewed by many as the beginning of a peace process.
Unlike the governments of the past, the current poster boy of Indian politics and a leader of the hardline Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi, built his entire election rhetoric on an anti-Pakistan sentiment. Many of his critics believe that the Pulwama attack was an inside job orchestrated by the BJP to win the elections amidst their declining vote bank.
Interestingly, the buck does not stop at the anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Modi is known for the infamous state-sponsored Gujrat riots in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister. The investigations and independent sting operations that followed one of the bloodiest communal riots in recent South Asian history exposed the Modi-RSS nexus.
The right-wing RSS political group, or the Rashtriya Samayamsevak Sangh, aggressively supports a Hindutva ideology and has been campaigning to declare India as a Hindu nationalist state, questioning the current secular status of the country.
Modi’s coveted support for the Hindutva ideology was further endorsed with the controversial abrogation of Article 370, dissolving the special status of the Indian Occupied Kashmir on August 5th, 2019. Kashmir has since been under a total lockdown and Pakistan has been aggressively voicing its concerns on international platforms. Despite all the heat, Pakistan went ahead with Kartarpur and India was forced to give in because it cannot afford to lose the support of its Sikh minority.
Interestingly, as India signed an agreement with Pakistan over the corridor, the Indian Supreme court passed the judgment on a disputed piece of land in the city of Ayodha in favor of Hindu claimants who had destroyed a mosque there in 1992. Observers believe that passing the controversial judgment on a Saturday, and on the same date as of the Kartarpur Corridor’s inauguration, India gave a message to its archrival that Kartarpur is an isolated favor.
What to Expect in the Future
Regional stakeholders such as China and Russia have welcomed the Kartarpur project and hailed it as a beginning of peace. But unlike the past, Pakistan is dealing with a government that firmly disagrees with the idea of a secular India.
The BJP-RSS nexus has recently come out openly with its extreme ideology and has systematically used mass media to shape public opinion to align with its ideology. The Indian government is skeptical of Pakistan’s intentions. On the flip side, Imran Khan’s critics in Pakistan believe that he is being way too generous. Under such conditions, the possibility of immediate improvement of ties looks bleak but Kartarpur corridor’s opening is going to bear positive long term effects.