LAST WEEK, India and Pakistan signed a historic agreement to open the newly constructed Kartarpur corridor, a border link built to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib located in the Narowal district of Pakistan.
A remarkable achievement in diplomacy given the recent spike in tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, which have been exacerbated by India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, and a recent air raid by the Indian military in Pakistani territory on what Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged to be a “terrorist training camp.”
Despite this backdrop, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter on Friday to announce his government has waived off two key requirements for Sikh pilgrims intending to cross the corridor into Pakistan.
“For Sikhs coming for a pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off 2 requirements: i) they won’t need a passport – just a valid ID; ii) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance. Also, no fee will be charged on the day of inauguration & on Guruji’s 550th birthday,” tweeted Mr. Khan.
In 280 characters or less, Pakistan’s leader, who is opening the Kartarpur corridor on November 9, has endeared himself to India’s Sikh community forever in granting them visa-free access to the shrine of the Sikh religion’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev, in Pakistan.
At a time when bilateral relations between the two nuclear-armed Asian states remain in a state of flux, Mr. Khan’s move to boost contact between the citizens of both countries should be seen for what it is, a welcome opportunity to initiate much-needed dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Until now, however, New Delhi has shown little interest in resuming strategic talks with Pakistan, particularly because the weaponization of anti-Pakistan propaganda is how Modi and his BJP party secured a convincing win in the country’s national election held earlier in the year.
“Can your first vote be dedicated to the valiant soldiers who carried out the airstrike in Pakistan? Can your first vote be dedicated to the brave martyrs of Pulwama?” asked Mr. Modi at a campaign rally on April 9.
As the Indian economy continues to slump downwards as a result of BJP’s self-defeating policies, the Indian prime minister continues to dial up the anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric as a way of blaming anti-Indian forces for his party’s economic mismanagement.
When the Congress party promised to remove the country’s archaic sedition law, which dates back to 1958 and effectively grants the government to carry out extrajudicial killings in Kashmir, Nagaland, and Manipur, Mr. Modi basically accused the party of being an agent for Pakistan, saying, “Pakistan wants this, too. It wants a free hand for those who want to work against India.”
Any student of India-Pakistan relations knows that breakthroughs derived from track one diplomacy are few and far between, but Mr. Khan deserves praise for seeking to increase people-to-people contact between the two countries and tamper brinkmanship at a tumultuous time, and so soon after India invoked Pakistan’s ire in revoking Kashmir’s special status.
CJ Werleman is a crusader against Islamophobia. The article first published in Albilad.