India and Pakistan share both history and geography yet they are constantly in a state of war – not always literally, but figuratively speaking. People on both sides of the border have suffered a great deal due to the tense relations between the two sides. States always have their own reasons to behave a certain way but at the end of the day, it’s the people who suffer. Apart from the general public, journalists in India and Pakistan have also suffered – if relations between the two sides are bad, they will not get visas. This also leads to more negativity on the media. If people-to-people contact is encouraged, it will only bring normalcy to a region that is still battling the ghosts of a bloody partition.
Thus it was quite heartening to see 22 Indian journalists cross the Wagah border to cover the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor. They were invited and hosted by the government of Pakistan. On the first night of their visit, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar hosted a dinner for the Indian delegates at Hazuri Bagh. The next morning, they were taken to Kartarpur on a bus from Lahore. Indian federal ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, and [Indian] Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu also attended the ceremony at Kartarpur. It was quite a sight to see thousands of Sikh pilgrims at one of the most sacred sites for the Sikhs. They only had good things to say about Pakistan. “Pakistan has outfoxed India by the Kartarpur initiative” was how one Indian journalist put it.
In his victory speech right after winning the 2018 elections, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said: “I think it will be very good for all of us if we have good relations with India. We need to have trade ties, and the more we will trade, both countries will benefit…If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you step forward one step, we will take two steps forward. I say this with conviction, this will be the most important thing for the subcontinent, for both countries to have friendship.”
Prime Minister Khan has followed up on his promise. While India cancelled Foreign Ministers’ talks in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistan still extended a hand of friendship by opening up the Kartarpur Corridor. Pakistan government understands that this is election year in India, which is why it may be difficult for the Modi government to reciprocate its friendly overtures. So they are willing to wait for another six months till a new government is in power on the other side of the border. While the PTI government can be criticised for a lot of things, especially related to our domestic politics, we must give credit to its India policy.
Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry acknowledged the history of hostility between the two sides but he raised a very important point. Chaudhry said we have three options: one, to wage a war against each other, which is unthinkable given that both countries are nuclear state; two, follow Doval’s doctrine of weakening each other, which are doing through proxy wars in any case; or three, come and sit together and discuss all possible solutions to resolve outstanding issues. The third option is the most feasible one and something that must be supported.
The PTI government is not the first government in Pakistan to extend a hand of friendship towards Pakistan. All political parties – be it the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or other smaller parties – are all on the same page when it comes to peaceful relations with India. Unfortunately, our previous governments suffered because of the military’s hawkish policy on India. This time around, it seems, both the civilian government and the military establishment are on the same page vis-à-vis normalcy with India. Prime Minister Imran Khan clearly said he wants to start trade with India. His government wants to ease the visa policy between the two sides. They are waiting for the formation of the next government in India to take things forward from the Indian side.
Although most of the coverage of the Kartarpur Corridor on the Indian side was positive, there were a few spoilers because of the presence of some Khalistani leaders at the groundbreaking ceremony. There are apprehensions that this is a move to restart the Khalistan Movement. Pakistan’s Foreign Office reacted strongly to these speculations: “We categorically reaffirm that the initiative to open this corridor has been taken by the Government of Pakistan solely in deference to the longstanding wishes of our Sikh brethren, and especially in the wake of the forthcoming 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Attributing any other motives is purely malicious,” said a Foreign Office statement.
As a peacenik, I have always advocated for peace between the two sides. I believe that the more we meet each other, the less hostile we will be towards each other. Our younger generation doesn’t have the baggage of partition but they do have the baggage of the Mumbai attacks and proxy wars. The only way to move forward and resolve all issues, including Kashmir and terrorism, is by talking to each other. Without dialogue between the two states, the Subcontinent will continue to bear the brunt of proxy wars. Both India and Pakistan have a huge youth bulge. Our younger generation deserves a safe future. Instead of skepticism, we need to make them more optimistic. Let’s give peace a chance. We owe it to our next generation. We owe it to ourselves as well.