India is afraid of its own shadow
By opening the Kartarpur corridor earlier this month, Pakistan displayed a huge deal of pacifism towards India, allowing Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit their holy shrines freely without visas. While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked Imran Khan on inauguration day, India’s media has instead stirred up paranoia that paints a different picture.
Speaking without bias, Khan has repeatedly shown great restraint and a willingness to make peace through dialogue in various ways — by returning captured squadron leader Abhinandan in February, by directing Pakistanis not to cross the Line of Control from Azad Kashmir to provide humanitarian aid or support to the besieged people of Indian-administered Kashmir, and finally, by opening Kartarpur Corridor. And all this, at a time of extreme, heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.
Even at the risk of public backlash, Khan stuck to his narrative of peace during the inauguration of the Kartarpur pass. “My political party, the rest of our political parties, our army, all our institutions are all on the same page. We want to move forward,” he said.
But in stark contrast, India’s media has linked the Kartarpur corridor with Pakistan’s support for the Khalistan movement, a Sikh nationalist movement in Indian Punjab that demands an independent state for the Sikhs.
India has on numerous occasions accused the Pakistani government of supporting the Khalistan movement, a charge Pakistan denies. Now, Indians believes the corridor will give Pakistan a chance to exploit the religious sentiments of Sikhs and create chaos inside India.
The Khalistan movement reached its peak in the 1980’s and died out in the 90’s after losing public support. Indian intelligence agencies under Indira Gandhi’s leadership carried out an operation code-named Blue Star in June 1984 to eliminate the Khalistan leaders from the Sikh’s Golden Temple. That military intervention into the Sikhs holy place was criticized world-wide.
India should not be worried about Pakistan’s ‘ulterior’ motives behind Kartarpur. The corridor has been the demand of the Sikh community around the world for decades, and is now a dream come true- to be able to freely visit the shrine.
Apparently now, the Kartarpur corridor has become a strangle hook for the Indian government. India cannot afford to criticize such a deeply sentimental issue, as it will lead to anti-government sentiment within the Sikhs. Even if it raises concerns among India for national security, New Delhi will think twice before making a hard-core statement keeping in mind the Sikh community’s past grievances against the state.
Pakistan has already made it clear that it does not intend to politicize the initiative of good faith that enables Sikh pilgrims to flock to the Gurdwara for religious duties. Under the Indian constitution, Sikhs are now considered part of the Hindu religion and not a religious minority. While India claims to have gained the trust of the Sikh community, it would appear many in India still question their patriotism and think an initiative like Kartarpur will turn the Sikhs against the state.
India is merely afraid of its own shadow and is in no position to point a finger.
New Delhi has long been accused by Pakistan of supporting a separatist movement in Balochistan, a charge India denies, despite evidence to the contrary, including an Indian navy commander taken into custody from the province, who confessed to working for India’s spy agency.
India should not be worried about Pakistan’s ‘ulterior’ motives behind Kartarpur. The corridor has been the demand of the Sikh community around the world for decades, and is now a dream come true- to be able to freely visit the shrine where their religious figure, Baba Guru Nanak, spent his final 18 years.
It is the trust deficit between the Indian government and the Sikh community that should be New Delhi's main concern and fear- not the Kartarpur pass.
– Naila Mahsud is a Pakistani political and International relations researcher, with a focus on regional politics and security issues.