The Express Tribune Editorial 25 November 2019

Reevaluating Kartarpur


Maybe it was always too good to be true. Maybe our government allowed itself to be swept up by hype it created itself. So far, the groundbreaking Karturpur Corridor has not generated the sort of revenue authorities had hoped.
In the run-up to its grand opening earlier this month, the government billed the corridor as something of a bonanza for the country. It was hoped that allowing India’s 24 million Sikhs unfettered access to some of their religion’s holiest shrines in Pakistan would jumpstart the country’s religious tourism sector.
Original plans foresaw as many as 5,000 Sikhs visiting Kartarpur daily once the initiative was up and running, but alas it has not been so. The number of pilgrims on the day the corridor launched was about half the projected figure. Since then, Sikhs in India have complained of a myriad hurdles that throw a damper on Pakistani hopes. Some hurdles are more general, such as most Indian citizens not having a passport. Others seem more deliberate given India’s paranoia that the peace initiative may reinvigorate a Sikh insurrection it quelled decades ago. Take, for instance, the high rejection rate that Sikhs applying for a travel permit complain of.
There is also the fact that any Sikh under the age of 35 is forbidden by India from using the corridor.Together, these challenges have so far prevented Pakistan from taking full economic advantage of the Kartarpur Corridor. However, there is another way to look at the Kartarpur Corridor before one gets too disillusioned. While it may not have brought much economic boon so far, the initiative has strengthened Pakistan’s hand from a moral and political standpoint. The goodwill it has generated for the country among the Sikhs of the world alone is reason enough for Pakistan to stick by Kartarpur, come what may.


Israel sans Bibi


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds many titles. History will record him as the longest-serving premier and as the architect of the hate campaign against the Palestinians. But after dominating the political landscape for more than a decade, the sun might finally be setting on Netanyahu’s reign.
The 70-year-old, who is also known as the Bibi king of Israel, was indicted for a long list of corruption charges last week. This could mean many things for a man who is no stranger to scandals and political controversy.
Netanyahu, like his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, could go to jail for a minimum of 10 years for the bribery charges and another three for the fraud and breach of trust. But it might just be too early to write off Bibi Netanyahu. After all, he is the master of political chicanery. He might avert the trial before the cases reach the court and seek a plea deal. While his is time at the helm of Israel’s political throne is over, Netanyahu’s political demise or survival brings no change for Israel or those suffering as a result of his policies.
Netanyahu has left an indelible mark on the nation and the Palestinians who have suffered the most during his rule. He has already poured gallons of hate into Israeli politics and made matters worse for the Palestinians. No surprises there, after all, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the man who proudly used the “Netanyahu—good for the Jews” slogan during his 1996 campaign, dividing the citizens of the country into Jews and non-Jews.
His campaign of hate now has deep roots, deeper than ever before. Over the past decade, he has used every rally and opportunity to delegitimise the Arab citizens, and he effectively has. So at this point, even if Netanyahu loses the trial, there is very little reason to celebrate his departure because he has already won the campaign of hate


Robust defence of CPEC


Pakistan leapt into the fray to mount defence of the lucrative, multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project a day after an uncommon slugfest between Washington and Beijing on the question of who stands to benefit most from the latter’s signature scheme. On the United States’ concern over ‘burdensome loans’ from Chinese state-owned enterprises potentially ‘hamstringing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reform agenda’, Pakistan issued a robust rebuttal, with newly-inducted Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar quashing the notion that Islamabad was destined to slip into a ‘debt trap’.
He was at pains to nullify the suggestion that Beijing was the sole beneficiary of its corridor project and asserted that the country’s relations with China within the scope of the grand scheme will never cool. Umer was responding to a speech made by US Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells, at an event in Washington two days previously. She had launched a blistering attack on China’s international development projects and lending practices under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The planning and development minister, in his rejoinder, said that CPEC would not prove to be a burden for the country but help in providing a strong basis for industrial growth in the years ahead. To Wells’ assertion that the multi-billion-dollar project is ‘certain to take a toll on Pakistan’s economy’ at the time of repayment of the debt and dividends in the coming years, Umer pointed out that the bilateral commercial debt from China would start declining in two to three years. He was unequivocal in his avowal that Pakistan would neither back out from the CPEC nor would it become a ‘collateral damage’ of any conflict between major powers.
Speaking about what he claimed was an ‘organized campaign’ against the CPEC both from in and outside the country, he said he could not say whether the US was behind that campaign or not. ‘What I can say is that we cannot step back from our friends especially from those who helped us out when we were at the deepest crisis of our history.’ We cannot agree with the minister more.

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