On Nov. 9, Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor – a dedicated border-crossing allowing Indian Sikh pilgrims to pass directly into Pakistan to visit one of Sikhism’s holiest sites, the Darbar Sahib Gurdwara. The historic Corridor could not have come at a more auspicious time for Sikhs around the world celebrating the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. For close to seven decades, Indian Sikhs have been unable to visit Darbar Sahib Gurdwara. This year, the trip should take minutes.
Moreover, the crossing represents another clear message to people across the world – Pakistan is committed to peace, tolerance and inter-faith harmony. The idea for the corridor has been in the works for many years but it was at the August 2018 inauguration of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan that the project took new life. He said during the inauguration ceremony that Pakistan was not just opening its borders, but also its hearts to the Sikh community.
It seems though that Pakistan’s messages of conciliation continue to fall on deaf ears. On the very same day Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor, India’s Supreme Court denied a historically proven Muslim claim to the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. The site, where a mosque has existed for centuries, has now been handed over to Hindu extremists on the basis of spurious claims, sending a chilling message to Muslims and other religious minorities in India. SUBSCRIBE
The stark difference between Pakistan’s overtures in Kartarpur, and India’s intimidation of Muslims and other minorities, has also been on full display in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir for more than 100 days now.
Since Aug. 5, when the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the besieged Kashmiri people have endured an unprecedented level of state brutality at the hands of India’s security forces. Under unyielding lockdown, 8 million Kashmiris have experienced immense suffering under nearly 1 million Indian soldiers. Many still have no access to hospitals, medicines or food. A blackout on communications continues, and the economy has come to a standstill.
India’s treatment of Kashmiris is only one, albeit huge, part of the problem. Its unilateral, illegal actions in Kashmir, its belligerent rhetoric and increasingly aggressive posture towards Pakistan, are all also posing a much wider risk to regional peace and security.
Already, the frequency of ceasefire violations by India near Kashmir has intensified in past months.
Any Indian aggression against Pakistan could very well lead to a wider and more intense conflict between the two nuclear powers. But this is not what Pakistan wants or has ever wanted. In 2018, when our prime minister came into office, he told India, “I really want to fix our ties, you take one step forward, we will take two.”
Instead, by February 2019, Indian jets were dropping bombs into Balakot, Pakistan, under the false pretense of bombing (non-existent) militant camps. Even after an Indian pilot was shot down by Pakistani air force, Khan reiterated his commitment to a constructive relationship with India and released the pilot in a gesture of good will.
That is why we consider India’s Aug. 5 Kashmir decision as India’s ultimate betrayal of all of our good faith this past year.
Now, instead of an environment free of violence, India has created a powder-keg in Kashmir and brought South Asia to the brink of armed conflict. Instead of cooperation, it shut down the region, and prevented any credible reporting on the human rights situation and the suffering of the people.
Even in the face of Indian intransigence, Pakistan has constantly worked to lower tensions with India. We know that peace is how Pakistan achieves prosperity for our people and for South Asia as a whole.
The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is one more confident step by Pakistan on that road – and another example of good faith, good will and good intentions. India should act responsibly, in the interest of peace and security in the region. It needs to end its military occupation of Kashmir, open up the region to the International community, and let the people of Kashmir determine their own future.
India must give peace a chance.
Asad M. Khan is Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.