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Kashmir’s journey from ceasefire to current political crisis

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Kashmir is a vexed issue of the Asian sub-continent that assumes dynamic dimensions and increases its momentum with the currents of time with a sort of deep permeated growing alienation of the masses and simultaneous floating wave of armed rebellion against the system. It is the problem of multitude and a vendetta which refuses to cow down with the periodic motions of time.

The problem has manifested into a state of multitude, viz,killings, arrests, hartals, mass media stirrings, political manuovers, internet blockades, etc. and unfortunately,the current political crisis is the major concern of the times in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that has delved deeply onto the political scene.

The government of India halted all the anti-militancy operations starting from 17th of May in the state of Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramadan of the Muslim calendar at the request of Chief Minister of the state Mehbooba Mufti. This was positively responded by the government of India after thorough consultations with all the stakeholders including the Home Affairs department.

Thereafter, Indian army chief ,General Bipan Rawat  reiterated that peace and talks must be given a chance.The positive aspect of unilateral ceasefire ensued a state of peace in the state for some period of time briefly until June 15,2018,with a fresh killing at the hands of the security personnel at Pulwama.

Subsequently, on the eve of Eid,the u-turn of events subsumed the peace horizon with a volley of anti-establishment protests and clashes between common masses and security forces  at various place of the valley, like Srinagar,Anantnag, Pulwama, Sopore,etc.which resulted in the bloody state in Anantnag district of J&K with the killing and bloodbath  of a youth and injury to various protesting people. All the national channels subsequently called into question the ceasefire move of the government and called it the day for the truce in the valley. Not only this, the killing of an army man Aurangzeb of Poonch area in Pulwama district of J&K deteriorated the situation thereof with the collective vent of anger at the situational flux and reluctance to offer the Eid prayers at Poonch area of the state.

In a crucial meeting conveyed by the Union government on 14th of June at New Delhi, it was reiterated to have the say whether to continue the truce or not after Eid ul fitr. However, on 17th of June, the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India post-Eid ul fitr announced the end of temporary ceasefire after fresh tweets poured in over the twitter handle of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh calling it the day for the truce and refuted the extension further after surge in a series of attacks on the security forces.

The government of India cited the continuance of operation all out to combat the militancy.Also, there was a major say on the recent killings of veteran journalist, Shujaat Bukhari and army soldier, Aurangzeb, besides the annual Hindu pilgrimage of Amarnath yatra so far as security is concerned. Although, The short term temporary measure of truce yielded some positive results of peace keeping on the ground and improved the situation to a large extent but the larger question was the concretization of peace, which a common Kashmiri envisions day-in-day-out.

Ceasefire in Kashmir was a major experiment of the government on the ground level to acid test the real situation on ground.There should have been a prior consensus of all the parties prior to the announcement of its withdrawal from Kashmir.The government of India has already experimented the truce process in the state previously in 2003 with Pakistan part to it.Will the government carry on the truce or cessation of anti-militancy operations in future is a situational question of vital importance. Kashmir is driving towards abnormality and to prescribe the antidote for the ailment lies with the the government of India.According to a recent security report ,the truce in Ramadhan proved to be a great success in J&K.

On the eve of Eid Ul Fitr, Hurriyat leader and executive Mukhtar Ahmad Waza in the grand mosque of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was vocal that the government of India must initiate an unconditional dialogue with Pakistan, in order to resolve the crisis and walk the talk for the sake of meaningful solution of the Kashmir problem and not merely for the sake of photo-ops and show-offs to the external world, devaiting from the main and core reality.

He  brought to light the former eighteen resolutions passed in the United Nations General assembly(UNGA) regarding the problem of Jammu and Kashmir and also expressed the plight of the prisoners in various jails of India, like Kathua, Hiranagar,Tihar jail(New Delhi),Rajasthan,etc. and pleaded for their unconditional release so that peace process can take off from the smooth and foundational ground and crisis will annhilate as soon as possible.He also brought to light the killing and martyrdom of  versatile veteran  journalist and Editor-in-Chief of the daily local newspaper Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari at press colony, Srinagar who was killed along with his two security guards by unknown gunmen on 14th of June,2018 in the very heart of the  Srinagar city.

The PDP-BJP(People’s Democratic Party-Bhartiya Janta Party) coalition government in J&K was formed few years back based on an agenda of alliance and common minimum programme ,brushing aside the political differences. Later,joining the baton,it was a Hobson’s choice for the coalition partners to come together.

The demise of the unholy alliance surfaced on 19th of June by the revelations of Ram Madhav ,BJP’s J&K incharge ,subsequently leading to demise of the coalition government and fallout in the form of Governor’s rule.BJP has time and again called for the abrogation of article 370 which gives special status to J&K state, whereas,PDP has always been its defender down the passing phases of time. Bhartiya Janta Party, national president Amit Shah accused PDP of misgovernance and developmental inequity in J&K, which latter out rightly refuted.

Meanwhile,ex-Chief Minister has recently warned New Delhi of serious repercussions, if it tries to create divisions and cracks in the People’s Democratic Party(PDP),since , according to media reports,few rebel MLA’s were in connivance with BJP to form the government again..The pull-out off the coalition government of PDP-BJP by the alliance partner BJP is seen as a political stunt by the analysts of the politics to woo the voters in the Lok Sabha elections,2019 in mainland of India as a polarising measure. Governor, N.N. Vohra called an all-party meeting on 22nd of june,2018,the same day when four militants, one civilian and one cop were killed in an encounter at Nowshehra, Khiram, Anantnag,J&K.

Moreover, The burning issue of Kashmir has time and again soured relations of India and Pakistan and given new lows to their bilateral relationship over the period of time. Even ceasefire violation at the border claimed life of a security person on the eve of Eid ul fitr.Not only this, for the first time, no pleasantries and sweets were exchanged by the armies of the two neighbours at the borders(LOC). In a recent interview to a local daily newspaper, the former Chief Minister and ex-minister in the Indian Union cabinet for New and Renewable energy Farooq Abdullah said that Kashmir will one day spell disaster and said that ceasefire will not work unless Pakistan is part of it.

Militancy is a major challenge for the government of India in the state of J&K, with rebels joining the same cadres on the day-to-day basis with very well-off family backgrounds and higher qualifications. However, according to security agencies, there were no intelligence inputs about any new recruitment into militancy during the truce operation.

Militancy has undergone a radical shift in J&K since the killing of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani in 2016.His departure was a major factor for the alienation of the people,with growing tendency among few youth to join the forces of rebellion.Down these two years,a huge number of youth joined the militancy and the process is on till date.Even, Ex-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently said that Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.

The recent arrest of two girl students from Anantnag district of J&K who are lodged in central jail Srinagar, J&K has created ire among the separatist chambers regarding the disregard for the opposite gender. Recently, after the termination and rejection of their bail, the father of these girls was making an affidavit in court complex Anantnag, when i enquired from him about their whereabouts. His face was sunken with paleness and disparity all over.

The next day these girls were transferred from sadder court, Anantnag to Srinagar central Jail. One of the girls is pursuing Masters in Economics and another is also well qualified in religious studies.Even,on the auspicious occasion of Eid ul fitr, the father-mother duo without any son spent their time amid sobs and wails, with the daughters confined behind the barracks of jail. Being the only daughters and spine of their father, the Government of j&K should review the gravity of the matter and release them subsequently who are still lodged in Srinagar central jail as soon as possible to prevent alienation, ruining and shattering of a next family and act in sync with the dictum of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan Beti Bachao (Save the girl).

The recent remarks of the United Nations General Assembly regarding the Kashmir problem and situation as of now reflects the interest of the world nations to solve the problem in Kashmir which has subsequently created ripples in the intellectual circles in India regarding the discourse over Kashmir imbroglio.

The former water resources minister and congress leader, Saifuddin Soz has recently hit the political plank and remarked that Parvez Musharaf’s formula is still relevant regarding Azadi,but that feat is not possible. Another congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in a recent interview to a national channel has said that more civilians are killed in anti-militancy operations by the security agencies than militants.

Meanwhile few media houses at the national level have tagged few intellectual Indians,like Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy,etc. who support the Kashmir cause as urban naxals and linked them with separatists, calling them as tukde tukde(Parts-parts) lobby to disintegrate India into parts in order to earn the TRP’s and appease the political bosses of the mainland India.

Being part to the problem, India and Pakistan must shun their rigidity, egoistic clashes and face-offs for the greater good of the people of the respective countries, particularly for the suffering people of J&K.The Kashmir issue has already consumed thousands of precious lives of the common men over the years of political turmoil. LOC trade has suffered to a remarkable and vast extent.

The growing state of animosity between India and Pakistan is not good gesture at all. India and Pakistan need to annihilate the looming crisis through the medium of a viable-cum-meaningful dialogue and reconciliatory approach with each other, keeping in view the state of chaos and disorder in j&K.There will be no descendancy of something divine to mediate thereupon so far as Kashmir issue is concerned , rather, it is the parties to the problem that have to negotiate for the redressal of the issue looming large over the Asian sub-continent. Meanwhile China  has said recently that Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) could serve as a great vehicle to build better bilateral relations and ties between India and Pakistan.

On 4th of June,Asif Ghafoor, Director General of ISPR,Pakistan accused India of 1,077 ceasefire violations since  the start of 2018 till date and said that there is no space for war with India.This is a vital indicator that only peace is the guarantee of a peaceful relationship between India and Pakistan,which will be subsequent platform for the discussion on Kashmir.

Today,the state is caught in the quagmire of a political crisis,where killings have become the order of the day.The major challenge for the governor’s office is to bring back the state towards the state of normalcy and pedestal of peace.

Today,when nobody is ready to take the baton of heading the political scene,the vital task is to dissolve the assembly for the fresh elections,till normalcy returns in the state of j&K,rather than keeping it in a state of suspended animation. The forego of BJP in the coalition government seems to be a divious plan of political motivations to create a ripple effect between one and the other to woo the nationalists. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are three limbs of the same body,tied up altoghether,which cannot be separated by the political divisions of polarising policies of a single party which augurs ill to the interests of the state itself.

The valley of Kashmir is today submerged in a sort of political waywardness. The question is not about the troika of roads,electricity and water or a law and order problem,rather,it is a political problem and requires a political solution.This is the time to move beyond the rhetoric of dialogue and show action for a permanent solution from the political bosses ,lest anarchy would spin thready network of uncertainty in future .

It is the common Kashmiri man who is being killed in the enmeshed imbroglio process and victimized due to the lingering issue at stake, be it militant, army man (Lt. Colonel Fayaz, Aurangzeb, etc), or a common man.The lingering imbroglio has consumed thousands of lives since the eruption of insurgency in nineties in the state of J&K.Still, Peace eludes the state of Jammu and Kashmir.Thus,along the pedestal of wheel from ceasefire to the current state of political crisis, all is not well in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.If the same situation persists,Kashmir will move towards a state of complete anarchy.

The security agencies must be given directives by the higher-ups to have an ultimate human regard for the common masses and particularly their precious lives during the state of protests. This will repose faith in the dictum of law among the masses, who have already suffered at the cost of the issue at stake.

Today, the situational turn of events have washed away the stay of peace among the masses. No one is aloof of the unwithering pain.It is rather a collective pain for which political prescriptions have failed to contain it.The political engineering of politicians seems to be a farce exercise.The ultimate question is for how long the problem of multitude will persist without any solution. People are in no hurry for the quick fix solutions, rather yearn for a permanent solution,once for all.

The recent triumph of PTI chief as elect Prime Minister of Pakistan has brought hope to the scene to talk with India and resolve the looming imbroglio, once for all.

The author has done M.Sc.(Biochemistry),B.Ed from Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi,M.A.(History) and also qualified CTET from CBSE. Previously,he was also working as a project trainee at JNU,New Delhi.He writes for a number of platforms on socio-politico-economic issues and currently works in J&K, government education department. He can be reached at abidjmi121[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

The Foreign Policy of Pakistan under Imran Khan

Rahat Shah

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This essay aims to analytically explain the foreign policy of Pakistan (PFOP) under Imran Khan Government. Here the question is that does PFOP in Change position? If it is, then at what extent minor or major? To answer the question, we argue that POFP is in a change position at a minor level. We found that the diplomacy which we dubbed “Speech diplomacy” is not enough to achieve the desired foreign policy objective. There is a need for a clear policy that should focus on strategic partnerships and flexible consensus.

No State foreign policy is immune to change where Pakistan’s foreign policy under Imran Khan has no exception. Since Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018, the foreign policy of Pakistan seems to have been in a position of change. The policy change will be explained by using Hermann’s three methods, which are: program change, second, adjustment change, and last problem or goad change. Program change means that the method of achieving foreign policy objectives has been changed. For instance, Imran khan is focusing on the diplomatic initiative, instead of to use the military to resolve the issues with India over the Kashmir issue.  Second, the adjustment change means that change in efforts and/or scope of foreign policy. In the case of Pakistan, Imran is working to normalize Iran-Saudi, Tehran-Washington and Taliban-US relations. Third, Problem/Goal Changes: the initial problem or goal that the policy addresses is replaced or simply forfeited. In this foreign policy change, the purposes of themselves are replaced. In this case, we will explain the “Kartarpur Corridor” which is using as soft power. Compare to previous governments especially during the post-9/11 decades there are no such changes have occurred in the foreign policy of Pakistan (PFOP) as it occurring under Imran Khan Government.

Program Change

Imran Khan is trying to resolve the Kashmir issue by diplomatic negotiation rather than use of military force, this function as a program change. The idea of Imran khan is very clear regarding the use of the military as he remarked that “Prime Minister Imran said the Kashmir issue could be resolved through dialogue as the war could not be a solution to any problem and those looking for that option were fools.” Imran said that “We will never start the war. Both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers and if tension escalates the world will face danger. I want to tell India that war is not a solution to any problem. The winner in war is also a loser. War gives birth to host of other issues”. Imran khan is pacifist and anti-war because his thinking is that wars can never solve the problems. We have never seen such kind of changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy in the contemporary political history if we compare it with previous governments where no much focus has given to diplomatic negotiation as Imran giving; for instance, he became the ambassador of Kashmir. We do not mean that previous governments have not attached importance to diplomatic negotiation but we mean that at such level there are no efforts where they entirely denied the use of the military. Currently, the approach of Imran Khan to highlight the issue of Kashmir at the multilateral and bilateral forum is what dubbed “Speech Diplomacy”. By speech diplomacy, we mean that Imran Khan is doing speech in multiple forums such as the United Nations and others. Imran Khan is trying to pressurize the Indian government for the purpose to achieve the foreign policy objective without using military forces.

Adjustment change: it means that changes in efforts and/or scope of foreign policy. In the case of Pakistan, Imran Khan is doing effort to normalize the relations of Iran-Saudi, Tehran-Washington, and Taliban-US. Currently, during the US-Iran tension he did the effort to normalize both state relations as he mentioned that the implication of the tensions will be disasters for the whole Gulf region, and tried to deliver his message to President Trump that “war is not the solution.” He asked the “FM Qureshi to visit Iran, KSA & USA to meet with respective foreign ministers, Secretary of State; & COAS Gen Bajwa to contact relevant military leaders to convey a clear message: Pakistan is ready to play its role for peace but it can never again be part of any war”. Further, if we look to Afghanistan’s issue Imran khan is trying to normalize US-Taliban relations as Trump mentioned that “Pakistan has the power to do so”. These efforts show the minor changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy under the Imran khan government. 

Problem/Goal Changes: the initial problem or goal that the policy addresses is replaced or simply forfeited. In this foreign policy change, the purposes of themselves are replaced. In case the policy over “Kartarpur Corridor” has been changed that is a tool of soft power for Pakistan. In November 2019, Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur corridor to facilitate visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims. To achieve foreign policy objectives Imran khan tried to socialize and educate the Indian Sikh citizen as he remind to them that “I am always so happy to see the Sikh community who have come here. God lives in the hearts of all of us. All the messengers who have come and gone only ever brought two messages, that of peace and justice.” In Pakistan’s political history there is no such kind of changes has occurred as it is occurring under Imran Khan Government. 

Suggestions for Pakistan

We here suggest that over Kashmir issue only “speech diplomacy” is not enough Islamabad should focus on two things, first, strategic partnership and second flexible consensus. These factors are very important to achieve the foreign policy objective and make long-term relations with other states. To do so Pakistan will not go into foreign policy dilemma especially on core national interest that is Kashmir issue. 

Conclusion

Our argument here yielded a powerful result that’s Pakistan foreign policy under Imran khan has been changed at the minor level. We explained that at three levels Pakistan FP has been changed which are: program change, second, adjustment change, and last problem or goad change. If we critically analyze the political history of Pakistan we do not see such kind of Changes that have been occurred under the Imran khan government. 

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Guterres lauds Pakistan’s commitment to climate change

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Secretary-General António Guterres delivers an address at a 'Special Talk on Sustainable Development and Climate Change', in Islamabad, Pakistan. UN News/May Yaacoub

The residents and expats rejoiced as news channels bombarded with joy. Happy days in Pakistan. The four-day jaunt was a welcomed one as it exemplified the country’s continued march to improve its image in the world. Indeed, remarkably news for everyone attached to the heartland of over 200 million.

UN Chief Antonio Guterres’ scheduled trip to Pakistan was from Sunday, 15th February 2020 to Wednesday,18th February 2020.He arrived to the country of hospitality and warmth to pay gratitude for its efforts to maintain peace and establishing goals to sustain climatic change.

His four days started with his addressed to International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity. He delivered a speech that won every Pakistani’s heart as he orated a story of success. The UN Chief excellently put into words the efforts by Islamabad for its dwindling environment.

Pakistan’s once good deed, when the nation whole heartedly accepted the refugees of Afghanistan and provided them with all necessary aid to establish their new lives in the new country, while they themselves struggled with their own demons. Afghani people were abandoned by their own country due to lack of resources and proper structure to provide the standard of living after soviets left the country in destitution.

Words backed up by the actions are seldom found true but this country plagued by domestic and international issues is managing it despite dwindling economic fortunes. The deeds done with compassion and empathy were praised by the hearts full of fondness.

After approximately 40 years the endeavor was acknowledged by Antonio Guterres’ historic words. They were aimed at boosting the morale of Pakistani people and it hit the nerve it was supposed to.

“For forty years, the people of Afghanistan have faced successive crises. For forty years, the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity. That generosity now spans across decades and generations. This is the world’s largest protracted refugee situation in recorded history. And this is also a story close to my heart. Pakistan is still the second largest country refugees hosting country.”

Guterres expressed admiration for Pakistan’s efforts towards Sustainable development goals (SDG) and climatic changes awareness. And these actions have not taken place in isolation. Successive governments have considered SGD’s integral in their roadmap for future although they have adopted differing point of views for the march ahead on other objectives.

The current government has made resolution of issues like unemployment through, and poverty as a priority. Kamyab Jawan Program and Ehsaas Program, respectively, were launched to tackle them on an urgent basis.

With dwindling water resources and increasing impact of smog during the winters, climate change has also found itself as a priority subject for Prime Minister Imran Khan. The use of biodegradable bags, and the ten billion trees tsunami campaign are active to achieve climatic sustainability in region.

These steps taken by federal government have been lauded in the international arena and Guterres was no different. This portrayal of Pakistan as he put in his experience was an added star on the chest of the country.

The UN Chief shared that health, poverty, employment especially job creation, skills development and education and environment degradation issues are faced by almost every country on the globe. And believes Islamabad is going in the right direction with such initiatives that will help address the situation and aid in improving them.

During his visit, the UN Chief met with President ArifAlvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa amongst others. He discussed Pakistan’s efforts in keeping peace and their role in war against terrorism. The tensions rising on the line of control were touched upon and the way forward deliberated. Guterres echoed Islamabad’s sentiments as he remarked that the matter should be solved according to UN resolutions.

HIV and Polio remain endemics in Pakistan and the UN chief addressed the health issues faced by the country. He was brought to speed on the steps taken to wholly eradicate these from the face of country, and also took part in administering polio vaccination drops at a local kindergarten school.

The students of a private university had the honor of hosting the Secretary General in the final leg of his tour, which also included tripsto historical landmarks, exhibiting the rich culture.

His visits took him to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahibm, a holy site for Sikhs. He acknowledged it as the monument of compassion and respect that Pakistan holds for other religions. Guterres was informed on the Kartarpur initiative, which he declared a “symbol of interfaith harmony, a unique experiment in cross-border ties”, and “Pakistan’s commitment to peace”.

UN Chief tweeted, “I concluded my visit to Pakistan after enjoying the rich history and vibrant culture of Lahore — from the Lahore Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the majestic Badshahi mosque,” A tour that ended on such cheerful note.

For a country devoid of acclaim despite its staunch fight against terrorism, the Portuguese’s visit and words were much needed. Euphoric response from the people outpoured after the refreshing encounter. In the times of continued struggle, it felt like a bliss. And it highlighted their efforts aimed at safeguarding a better world for future generations.

Australia burned for over three months while the damage to Earth’s ecosystem from Amazon fires have yet to be calculated. Increase in temperature and melting of ice caps are not mere theories but matter of facts. Nether are the drying water reserves in regions where these natural resources were plentiful. Californian droughts come to mind.

It is the need of the time to work on the global climatic crisis. It not only effects the quality of the atmosphere we breath and live in as everything is at risk. Like Pakistan, the sustainable development goals should be part of forthcoming plans across the world. As we need to inflict the need of caring for the environment.

Climatic change has grown into one of the major problems for every country regardless of their economic conditions. Improvised and immediate measures need to be taken to control this problem, or else we might find a new map of earth. Countries in developing regions are at likelihood to be affected by the climatic change. In these regions the local government is either not present or fails to understand the amount of risk their country faces if not taken care of. Pakistan has shown the roadmap. If a country battling on all front can prioritize and focus on it, so can the rest of the world.

Pakistan have lost ten thousand citizens due to it and the loss has not been swept out of public perception. The government has taken steps towards climatic stability but more drastic measures need to be taken if the state of affairs is not stemmed. The Secretary General’s trip should not be remembered for the praise and gratitude he showered but for the reasons he came.

With its decreasing water resources and an ever-increasing population, stagnant agricultural output and a developing economy, the country will be hard pressed but should soldier on. Islamabad has taken steps in the right direction but it is not the end of the road but the start of a journey.

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South Asia

Kartarpur Corridor: Sikh Soft Power

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Ever since the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor, three months ago, in November 2019, it has drawn the attention of media and strategic analysts in South Asia, and outside the region, for different reasons. The Corridor, a long standing demand of the Sikh community, connects Dera Baba Nanak (Punjab, India) with Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, (Narowal Kartarpur in Pakistan) (which are barely 5 kilometres apart). Individuals wanting to pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib, can cross over through the Corridor, without a visa.

The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Sahib spent a crucial phase of his life — the last 18 years — at the town of Kartarpur, which he founded (in 2019, along with members of the community, many governmental and non-governmental organisations, in different capacities commemorated the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Sahib).

While it is true, that in recent years,  there has been an increase in the number of Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan on important religious occasions, and the Pakistan government had taken steps to encourage more Sikh pilgrims, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is significant, given that pilgrims can travel without a visa.

 Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur is especially relevant, not just from a symbolic point of view, because Guru Nanak Sahib spent a significant part of his life –18 years. But because it was at Kartarpur, that Guru Nanak Sahib who came up with an alternative paradigm, and sought to challenge the status quo in South Asia, along with some of his close followers from different faiths, propagated the Sikh philosophy (Meditation and remembrance of God, honest and truthful labour, and sharing one’s earning with the needy are often referred to as the three important pillars of the Sikh philosophy, which were enunciated, by Guru Nanak Sahib)

Kartarpur Corridor: Current context

If one were to look at the current situation, Kartarpur Corridor and the response so far, while it is true, that there are a number of logistical issues, which have resulted in the number of pilgrims crossing over, being far lesser than estimates. According to official estimates, from the Indian side, the number of individuals who have crossed over through the corridor is a little less than 45,000 ever since the opening of the Corridor.

One of the major causes identified for the Corridor, not receiving the sort of response, which was expected, is the requirement of a Passport for travel to Kartarpur. The Sikh community had been demanding an arrangement where by any ID would suffice.

Yet, there have been a number of positive outcomes. It has resulted in interactions between Sikh Community and locals. Pilgrims have returned with positive stories not just with regard to the Darbar Sahib, but the warmth of the local population.

The opening of the Corridor hasalso opened up vistas in the area of religious tourism not just for Sikhs, but for the Hindu community as well. Pakistan has stated, that not only will it renovate Hindu Temples, but will also permit pilgrims from India access to Gurudwaras and Hindu Temples they were not permitted to visit earlier.

Pakistan itself is likely to benefit not just economically, through religious tourism, but in terms of it’s international image.

Impact on South Asia’s geopolitics

One aspect, which can not be ignored is the Corridor’s impact in the context of South Asia’s geopolitics. A number of observers of South Asia, were surprised, that the Religious Corridor actually went ahead in spite of tensions between India and Pakistan (which have consistently deteriorated in 2019) . Similarly, a number of naysayers, in the media as well as strategic community, have been critical of the Corridor, arguing that Pakistan could use it to foment militancy in Punjab (this is a rather simplistic argument, which fails to take into account the sensitivities of Sikh pilgrims, who have no real interest in the politics of deep-states, and looks at the issue from a rather narrow lens)

What is especially interesting is, how the Corridor has drawn global attention. US, China and a number of other countries have welcomed the opening of the corridor, saying that it will pave the way for peace and harmony in South Asia. A number of Sikh activists and commentators have been speaking about the need for ‘Sikh Soft Power’ which can be effective in blunting narratives of bigotry and narrow mindedness which have gained currency globally in the past few years.

The opening of the Corridor, and its potential role in reducing conflict could be an important component of this Sikh Soft Power. In 2019, a number of other important events have helped in enhancing the stature of Sikhs globally. First, Sikhs in different walks of life have taken an unequivocal stance, against hate both in India and outside. Two prominent Sikh politicians – Tanmanjeet Singh a Labour MP in UK and Gurratan Singh, a New Democratic Party (NDP) legislator from Ontario in Canada were hailed for taking a firm stand against Islamophobia. Second, Khalsa Aid (founded by a British Sikh, Ravi Singh) an international charity while following the Sikh principles of compassion and Nishkam (selfless service)has provided humanitarian aid in conflict zones, and regions struck by calamities like floods and earthquakes. The stellar work of Khalsa Aid, is now recognized not just in South Asia, but globally.

It would be pertinent to point out, that The UN head, Antonio Guterres, also visited the Corridor during his recent visit to Pakistan. He had welcomed the opening of the Corridor in November 2019. “paving way for interfaith harmony and understanding by facilitating visa-free cross border visits by pilgrims to holy shrines.”

This visit is important, because it brings to the fore the relevance of the Kartarpur Corridor in a global context. The UN Chief while commenting on his visit to Kartarpur, dubbed it as a symbol of Inter faith harmony. A prominent US based Sikh activist, Harinder Singh in a tweet stated, that the UN Chief’s visit was significant. Said Singh:

‘Guru Nanak Sahib started langar at Kartarpur Sahib, free & open distribution of Wisdom & Food. United Nation’s Secretary-General & Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Dr. Noor Ul Haq Qadri partook rice & lentil. Hope 1-Ness wisdom prevails to realize peace via the Panjab’

Conclusion

In conclusion, Kartarpur Corridor has religious significance for the Sikh community, but it has the potential for reducing tensions in South Asia (by possibly making a beginning, by propelling greater bonhomie and economic integration between both Panjab’s) and could pave the way for greater people to people initiatives as well as trade between India and Pakistan. The Corridor will also help in highlighting the role, which the Sikh faith has, not merely as a ‘bridge-builder’, but an active facilitator of peace in South Asia at a time when the hopes are dim. The Corridor thus is important, as it is an important component of ‘Sikh Soft Power’ and also reiterates the relevance of what has been dubbed as Faith Based Diplomacy.

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