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Option before Modi: Kartarpur may help build peace, friendship, 'gain' popularity

By Sandeep and Arundhati Dhuru*
It was heartening to hear Narendra Modi praise Imran Khan for facilitating the opening of 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general elections and then after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was taken by his government.
Full credit for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in spite of an all along during his tenure belligerent Indian posture must go to Imran Khan. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this and Sidhu, too, like Imran, has stood by the decision in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing in ceremony.
In the history of India-Pakistan relationship most of the times Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating.
Otherwise, in a usually tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, Narendra Modi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.
It is also an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another minority, Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa, with a warm welcome.
Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims who have had a chance to go across the corridor to Kartarpur it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians.
However, it’ll be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on Indian side suggested they should allow Aadhaar Card instead.
From our experience during 2005 Delhi to Multan peace march, on feet in India and by vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border but had to be disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so.
The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so that it doesn’t hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting the resting palce of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.
The 2005 Delhi-Multan peace march was taken out with three objectives:
  1. India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K which should be resolved according to wishes of the people belonging there,
  2. India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of common people, and 
  3. Two countries should remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the border. It was the third demand which attracted most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated. 
One Tadi Kirtan singer in a Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues.
We must admit we felt humbled being educated by a common man on street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.
The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the Sajjada Nashin of the mazar of a Sufi saint Bahauddin Zakariya in Multan, where the march terminated.
That day Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers which is easier said in India than in Pakistan, ‘One day Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanies.’ Such was the congeniality created due to peace march.
Pak foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi welcomed Indian peace marchers in 2005, said: One day two countries will reunite like two Germanies
Even if you look at the mood on the day when Narendra Modi was flagging off the 562 pilgrims from Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the leadership of two countries had disappeared like a magic.
Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmity maintained artificially, which easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive, between the two governments doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak the same language.
If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely the animosity between the establishments will melt away. Indian side holds the present initiative of Pakistani government in suspect. They think Pakistani Army or Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) might have some ulterior motives to encourage Khalistani protagonists to create disturbance in India.
That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship based on trust can take off. The stakes for peace are so high which will make life of so many so easier that it is worth taking the risk.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said that he'll talk to Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence in spite of the nature of official relationship of two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in bordering areas on both sides.
The Indian position that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism it’ll not dialogue with it, is slightly untenable. It is like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists in the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) state unit it’ll not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government.
With the recent demonstrations against Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leadership that India can expect Pakistan to have, to deal with it. It should not fritter away the opportunity.
Narendra Modi should also realize that his Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change his nature of politics by appealing to better senses of people to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could equally successfully mobilise public opinion in his favour. 
The mood of the people and politicians on both sides of border on November 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.
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*Contact: ashaashram@yahoo.com, arundhatidhuru@gmail.com

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