FOLLOWING the latest round of talks in Atari, Pakistan’s announcement on Wednesday that it was ready to open the Kartarpur Corridor in November is in keeping with its preferred route of engagement with India. It is now the other side’s responsibility to fulfil its end of the bargain and realise the agreement struck between the two countries to create the corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. Pakistan has also committed to hosting 5,000 pilgrims or more daily at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal, which this Kartarpur stretch will link with India. The access will be without visa “to pilgrims of all faiths, seven days a week, throughout the year”, says a statement by the Foreign Office. Taking a break from war rhetoric, provided that India demonstrates the same willingness as Pakistan, the two appear poised to enter a new (as well as return to a bygone) era of people-to-people contact, with Sikh pilgrims being allowed travel across the corridor, only needing to be issued an identification card issued by the authorities on side of the border.
The movement along the Kartarpur Corridor is significant in that it reflects Pakistan’s consistent position of pushing for dialogue between its leadership and those who must make decisions on the behalf of the Indian people. It is not difficult to understand why, in recent times, this offer for dialogue may have been replaced with a sterner tone in reaction to India’s refusal to hold talks over Kashmir. And, surely, this does not represent a departure from the principle that places faith in humanity and its ability to find a joint solution without having to come to blows. Pakistan’s leadership has clearly called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his associates over their aggressive posturing. And it has also made clear that it is alert to any kind of danger posed to it without losing its balance, and without irrationally allowing it to be taken hostage by the hoarse cries of war.
The Pakistani delegation’s handling of the Kartarpur Corridor in the recent round of talks, even at a time of serious bilateral tensions, signified both maturity and candidness. Earlier this week, Pakistan lifted a ban on import of medicines and raw material from India to prevent a shortage of crucial drugs, even as a general bar on bilateral trade remained effective. The exemption was given “in the best interest of the public”. The same mature and confident approach by Pakistan may be required in dealing with other aspects of the bilateral relationship — for instance, resumption of the bus service in order to benefit families divided across the border. It displays an openness that, along with bringing other positives, will best serve the country’s image internationally.
Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2019