New Delhi: India considers the Kartarpur Corridor connecting India and Pakistan as a corridor of faith and possibly one of friendship too, but is wary that Islamabad could use it as a tool to fan flames of Sikh separatism once again, two people familiar with the developments said.
The comments came after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant in charge of information and broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan on Monday released a promotional video of the Kartarpur Corridor featuring Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale and other Sikh separatists killed in the 1984 Army action at the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out terrorists.
India had as early as in 1999 proposed the construction of a corridor to allow pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to cross into Pakistan to visit Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Kartarpur in Narowal district, according to one of the people mentioned above. The shrine in Pakistan is revered by Sikhs and people of other faiths as it is the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
However, Pakistan took up the project only last year “with unusual alacrity" with the backing of the Pakistani military, the first person mentioned above said. Talks to finalise the modalities for pilgrims crossing over “survived two bilateral crises" the same person said.
Forty Indian paramilitary personnel travelling in a convoy were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives in Pulwama in February. India on 26 February ordered a pre-emptive aerial strike against a terrorist training camp in Balakot and Pakistan retaliated the next day with an air raid on military targets in Kashmir.
Tensions between the two countries also spiked after India revoked Article 370 of its Constitution, which had conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan followed up by expelling India’s high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria.
“At times, the real purpose of it (launching the Kartarpur Corridor) has been clear and the underlying strategic purpose behind Pakistan’s move has been to possibly promote a separatist movement in Punjab to leverage the issue of Khalistan and have greater leverage in another border state. We have seen many moves aimed at driving a wedge between Sikhs and Hindus, between the Centre and the state and there have been many overt attempts," said the first person mentioned above.
“We have walked into this with our eyes wide open. We see this as an initiative that could genuinely lead to some degree of peace between the countries but more importantly, as a democracy, we were driven by the sentiments of the people of Punjab."
“Our security establishment is very, very conscious of the pitfalls and we have taken every step to ensure that there is no security compromise," this person added.
The second person quoted above said a 550 member official Indian delegation will travel to Pakistan on 9 November, when the corridor is opened for pilgrims. With just three days to go before the opening, Pakistan was yet to return with its confirmation of the list of names on India’s official delegation, the person said.
The Indian delegation includes former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarindar Singh, central ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, former deputy chief minister of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal and some European Parliament members of Indian origin who will travel as Overseas Indian Citizens, the second person said.