Analyzing the ‘Goodwill’ Behind Pakistan’s Unusually Warm Gesture Towards The Sikh Community

The Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara is revered by the Sikh community around the world. The final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, is located in Pakistan, less than 5 kilometers from the Indian border.  

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Late in 2019, the Pakistani government granted visa-free access to Indians via the newly-constructed Kartarpur Corridor citing the approval as a special gesture towards the magnanimous Sikh community.

However, last week, as many parts of the newly constructed temple were damaged, the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara grabbed all the media attention with India and Pakistan punching ‘verbal’ blows at each other.

The Kartarpur Corridor was flagged off by Indian PM Narendra Modi on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The PM equated the opening of the Kartarpur corridor with the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that “on 9 November, the Berlin wall was broken down” and “today, on 9 November, the Kartarpur Sahib corridor has been opened” for which “India and Pakistan have both cooperated.”

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While India felt it contributed to healing the fissures in the cracked friendship, PM Imran Khan clearly had other ideas. He showed his true colors in the inauguration ceremony itself by highlighting the Kashmir issue.

Khan argued that Kashmiris were still living “like animals” with restrictions on their human rights. “Today what’s happening in Kashmir is beyond the territorial issue. This is about human rights now,” Pakistan PM emphasized.

The anti- India rhetoric is not a surprise but using the Sikh community to ferment trouble is a move that was last used 50 years ago by Pakistan.

Even before the inauguration ceremony, the intentions of Pakistan were quite clear. The Kartarpur Corridor is just a method to fan separatism in Punjab and drive a wedge between Sikhs and India. The official welcome video released by Pakistan showed just this.

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The now-deleted video, featured Sikh separatist leaders, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his military advisor Shabeg Singh, who were killed during Operation Blue Star in 1984.

Indian Punjab CM Amarinder Singh spoke about Pakistan’s “hidden agenda” during the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.

Earlier too, India had conveyed its objections to Pakistan over the presence of a leading Khalistani separatist in a committee appointed by Islamabad on the project. There are reasonable concerns in New Delhi that the Pakistani army would again try to revive the Khalistan movement and use the corridor to radicalize the Sikh community.

Inside the temple, a signboard claiming India’s intention to bomb the holy site during the 1971 war further showed Pakistan’s attempt to sow the seeds of animosity.

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Pakistani netizens themselves exposed the hidden agenda of the Pakistani army almost a week after the first batch of pilgrims visited the site. While speaking on a street talk show by Naya Pakistan, a YouTube channel, people said the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a pre-planned strategy to woo Sikhs to fuel anti-India sentiments.

While speaking to a reporter, a local gave a scary insight into the reason behind the corridor. “Pakistan wants world peace and this is the significance of Islam. There are 14 crore Sikhs, one crore Kashmiris and 30 crore Muslims in India, he claimed erroneously.

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Sikhs will be with us as we have given them honor on this occasion. PM Imran Khan and the whole of Pakistan have given respect to them. General Bajwa and Pakistan Army have warmly welcomed them. God willing, they (the Sikhs) will be with us in the war against India.’’

He further added that time has come to teach Modi a lesson. God willing, 45 crore people in India and 20 crore people in Pakistan will teach Modi a lesson. This is a big achievement of General Bajwa and Imran Khan. No one thought about this. We have extended friendship with the Sikhs, and God willing, Sikhs are with us and they will stand with us during ‘Jihad’ or holy war”.

As the interview goes on another man offers his opinion and says that the decision has made Imran Khan immensely popular amongst the Sikh community in India. He said: “It has happened for the first time that Pakistani flags are being hoisted in India”.

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Apart from the ‘goodwill’, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor also generates income for the cash strapped Islamic republic. According to reports, Pakistan is expected to earn INR Rs 258 crore per annum from pilgrims visiting the shrine.

A $20 service fee per pilgrim will earn $100,000 every day and since the shrine is open 365 days a year, Pakistan will rake in $3,65,00,000 a year, bringing in much needed foreign exchange.

The absurdity of this plan is that after having religiously cleansed their areas of the Sikhs and Hindus, Islamabad now wants to benefit from the Sikhs and develop their economy, writes a critic.

Kartarpur alone will add at least $100 million every year to the Pakistani economy when you add the fees being charged from pilgrims, the offerings, and the other money that will be spent by those going on the pilgrimage.

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A bulk of this money will be whisked away by Islamabad to finance terrorism in Punjab. In other words, Indians will end up supporting the violence and devastation in Punjab that Pakistan has been scheming, writes Sushant Sareen.

Sareen’s statements does make sense. The Khalistan movement gained momentum in the 1970s and the state of Punjab was paralyzed for a decade. It received support from the All India Sikh Students’ Federation and was led most effectively by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Bhindrewala was later eliminated in Operation Blue Star, an incident that lives on in the memory of the Sikhs in India. Pakistan’s attempts to support the movement were no secret and with the opening up of the corridor, there is suspicion that it might try to do the same again.

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Intelligence reports have warned that organizations such as Pakistan-backed Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) plan to use the Kartarpur Corridor to further their agenda. Allowing supporters in Pakistan to raise posters and flags of Bhindrewala and shouting Pro Khalistan slogans is also another case in point.

New Delhi must keep a watchful eye or pay the price. With its troops in full action along the border in Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and the states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Mizoram in the east, India cannot afford to deal with a new problem in Punjab.

Analyzed By Armaan Srivastava. Edited By Nitin J Ticku